The WBSS semi-finals finally kick off this coming weekend, and in regards to Asian boxing we'll get the first of the two Bantamweight semi-final bouts, as WBA "super" champion Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25) takes on WBO king Zolani Tete (28-3, 21). The winner will not only unify the titles but also advance to the WBSS Bantamweight final, later in the year, where they will face either Naoya Inoue or Emmanuel Rodriguez.
Whilst the WBSS has stalled losing it's shine shine and momentum this year, the competition is still something that has got fan interest and this bout certainly looks to be one of the most interesting of the tournament so far. It pits established names against each other, both men who are in their 30's, both of whom will know that winning the WBSS tournament will be the biggest achievement of their career. It gives both the chance to not only unify two titles with this bout, but also add the IBF title in the final, and really stamp their mark on the Bantamweight division.
The 36 year old Donaire is a modern day legend. He has not only been one of the most genuine, classy and likable fighters in the sport, but also a lower weight superstar. Since shocking Vic Darchinyan back in 2007 for the IBF Flyweight we have seen Donaire as one of the faces of the lower weight classes. Over the last decade or so he has scored notable wins over a real who's who, including Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Fernando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Simpiwe Vetyeka and most recently Ryan Burnett. Whilst the level of performance varied it's hard to doubt the level of wins Donaire has picked up.
Despite a host of big wins Donaire has picked up losses in recent years, losing 4 of his last 12 bouts. Those losses have however come to world class fighters Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nicholas Walters, Jessie Magdaleno and Carl Frampton. Those losses have shown that Donaire, at times, wasn't a master boxer, wasn't lightening quick and was event fighting above his best weight. Despite those issues he was always a very dangerous puncher, with one of the most devastatings hooks in the sport.
In the ring Donaire isn't as quick or as sharp as he once was, but he is a strong, powerful, skilled fighter. If he boxes at 118lbs he won't have the sharpness to hold his own, but if he applies an intelligent pressure style, he will be able to impose his will on most opponents. Although Ryan Burnett made him look slow in their bout last year Donaire's pressure was having success and we suspect to see that type of game plan from him again here.
Donaire's opponent is 31 year old South African Zolani Tete, a rangy, tall and skilled fighter who really is a phsyical freak at 118lbs. Like many top South African fighters it took a long time for Tete to get much international attention, that's despite fighting for a world title way back in 2010, when he lost to Moruti Mthalane. Tete would in fact go 3-2 following his first loss, losing razor thin decisions to Jaun Alberto Rosas and Roberto Domingo Sosa, both on the road. Since those 3 losses he has won 12 in a row, become a 2-weight champion and finally got some respect as a top fighter.
The recent winning run of Tete has seen him defeat Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr, Teiru Kinoshita, who he beat for the IBF Super Flyweight title, Paul Butler, Arthur Villanueva, Siboniso Gonya, Omar Andrez Narvaez and Mikhail Aloyan. Against Butler he looked sensational, against Gonya he looked destructive, but those bouts aside he has left himself open to criticism, as lack a killer instinct, and being too happy at winning, rather than wanting to win and look good. There's been a bit of a "fighting in third gear" feel about his recent showings, and they have seen him look less than great.
Despite not looking amazing Tete is a quick, sharp fighter, with solid power, a great judge of distance, accurate punches and good movement. He lacks a real spitefulness to his work, in general, but is a hugely skilled fighter who has the sort of size rarely seen at Bantamweight. He's very tall and very long.
Coming in to this we're expecting a pretty clear stylistic match up. Tete will look to use his reach, his speed and his jab, he will look to keep Donaire at range and rack up the rounds. Donaire on the other hand might begin as a boxer but will revert to being a pressure fighter as the bout goes on, bringing the heat and looking to beat down Tete with heavy leather.
We can see both men winning. We can clearly see Tete putting on a boxing class, fighting safely and racking up the early rounds before cruising to a closer than it should be decision. We can also see Donaire's vicious power and physicality breaking down Tete in the middle rounds.
We'd love to see a Donaire win, and we'd obviously love a Donaire Vs Inoue final, but it would be an upset for him to do it at his age. Instead we're going with a Tete decision win, with the South African staying sharp, on his toes and alert of the danger Donaire brings. He'll not put on a show, but he will get the win.
Preduction UD12 Tete.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On April 26, at the Forum in Inglewood, California, a much anticipated title bout will take place as Srisaket Sor Rungvisai defends his WBC Super Flyweight World Championship against Juan Francisco Estrada, in a rematch, 14 months in the making.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-4-1), unlike most World champions from Thailand, didn’t have a long and successful Muay Thai career, before breaking into the sport. Life forced him to move to Bangkok, when he was only 13 years old and worked as a trash collector at a department store in order to feed himself. He finally took up pro boxing in 2009 and in just 2 years he was the WBC Asia champion.
In 2013, Sor Rungvisai (with a record of 18-3 at the time) challenged Yota Sato (26-3) for the WBC Super Flyweight World title. Sato, with victories over the likes of Kohei Kono, Suriyan Kaikanha and Ryo Akaho, was the clear favorite to win this fight. The Thai boxer shocked the world when he dominated the champion in every single round, leaving him almost no room for an offense of his own, continuingly punishing him until the referee had to step in and stop the fight in the 8th, crowning Srisaket the new World champion, at the age of 26. Sato had never been stopped prior to this match.
Srisaket made his first defense against Hirofumi Mukai (15-6) in a one sided beatdown. He lost his belt to Carlos Cuadras (37-3) in controversial fashion, after Cuadras suffered a cut over to his left eye from an accidental clash of heads and was awarded the technical decision. In just a few months after that loss, he reclaimed the WBC Asia title and mostly fought journeymen until he squared off 2 time world title contender Jose Salgado (36-5). Sor Rungvisai blasted the Mexican with a couple of strong left punches and one mean right cross in the 4th round to get the TKO win and the WBC Silver championship.
His biggest challenge came on March 18 of 2017, when he fought Roman Gonzalez at Madison Square Garden, for the belt he never truly lost. Chocolatito, 88-0 as an amateur and 46-0 as a pro, had never lost a single match in his entire career. As a 4 division World champion, with notable wins over Yutaka Niida, Katsunari Takayama, Juan Francisco Estrada, Akira Yaegashi, Edgar Sosa, Brian Viloria and Carlos Cuadras, it was no secret that Srisaket was once again the underdog. Much like the Sato bout, the Thai phenom stunned everyone when he scored a knockdown, in the very first round, as he connected with a thunderous uppercut. During the 3rd, Roman suffered a cut on his right eye, which caused massive bleeding as the fight progressed. Both men went back and forth, in an exciting affair that saw them delivering furious exchanges. Gonzalez put on a strong offense, mostly in the later rounds, but Srisaket was dominating the majority of the match. When the last round came, they left it all in the ring, bringing the fans at the Garden on their feet. After the dust had settled, Sor Rungvisai got the decision and reclaimed the WBC Super Flyweight World Title.
The rematch was set in September, at the inaugural Superfly show in California. The fight was a slugfest as champion and challenger went toe to toe, trading bombs with one another for 3 consecutive rounds. However this time, the ending came abruptly, when Srisaket knocked Gonzalez out with a massive right hook in the 4th. This bout, not only marked Chocolatito’s second ever defeat (both at the hands of the same opponent), but also his first (and thus far only) KO loss in 137 outings.
On February of 2018, Sor Rungvisai defended his belt again, this time against the former WBA & WBO Flyweight World champion Juan Francisco Estrada. In what was considered a Fight Of The Year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds in the main event of the second Superfly event. Despite trading hard shots with each other, neither fighter went down and instead came back even stronger. It was anyone’s game, as the balance kept shifting in every round. In the end, Srisaket earned the majority decision and left California with the strap once more.
After stopping former WBC Asia and WBO Asia Pacific champion Young Gil Bae (30-7) in less than 3 minutes, the Thai superstar competed at ONE Championship’s “Kingdom Of Heroes”, this past October, making this match his first world title defense in home soil, since 2013. Sor Rungvisai clashed with former WBC Latino champion & top ranked boxer Iran Diaz (15-3) in a record breaking event, which drew 25 million viewers worldwide. Now as part of Matchroom Boxing, Srisaket will collide with one of his best rivals, in Juan Francisco Estrada.
Juan Francisco Estrada (38-3) made his pro debut at 18 years of age, ending a rather impressive amateur run (94 wins and only 4 losses), and went 18-0 prior to his meeting with future IBF Super Flyweight World champion Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. in 2011. “El Gallo” avenged that loss within the same year, as he stopped Sanchez in the very last round of their second encounter.
After unsuccessfully challenging the then undefeated Chocolatito for the WBA Light Flyweight World title (the one and only time he fought at that division), Estrada quickly bounced back, when he defeated Brian Viloria (38-6) to become the unified WBA & WBO Super Flyweight World champion, just 5 months later. Viloria, 230-8 as an amateur & a former AIBA World champion, was on a 6 fight winning streak and hadn’t lost in 3 years. Most of the fight took place inside the pocket, with both warriors throwing hard shots, punishing each other’s head and body. Estrada got the better of these exchanges, which earned him the split decision and the straps.
His first defense was against the WBO International champion & future IBF Light Flyweight World champion Milan Melindo. The Filipino had never lost a fight (at that point) since his debut in 2005, as he entered his first world title match, with a perfect record of 29 wins and zero losses. It was an intense fight that saw Melindo won a few rounds, but with Estrada always being ahead on the judges score cards and kept pressuring more and more as the time went by, even scoring a knockdown in the 11th after landing a right cross and almost finishing Melindo off in the 12th.
Estrada went on to defend his belts 4 more times against top contenders Richie Mepranum (33-7) & Rommel Asenjo (32-7), as well as former World champions Giovani Segura (33-4) & Hernan Marquez (43-10). That last one must be his most dominant performance thus far, as he broke Marquez down with some exceptional body work and proceeded to drop him on 7 different occasions, between rounds 6 and 10, for his 24th stoppage victory.
In 2017, El Gallo decided to move up a weight class and soon fought the former WBC Super Flyweight World champion Carlos Cuadras (37-3) for the right to challenge the winner of Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez II. Volume and precision were the key factors that gave Estrada the edge he needed to beat the former champ and secure a title shot against Srisaket. Since failing to capture the WBC crown, the Mexican has added 2 more victories to his record and will once again be able to fight for that same championship.
It’s hard to predict who’s going to have the advantage here, especially when you consider their 1st match and how close it was. Estrada is slightly taller & younger than his opponent and has the bigger reach. Experience is pretty much even as Srisaket might have more fights under his belt as a pro, but Estrada has a lengthy amateur career. On the other hand, the Thai champion definitely has the power on his side, with 87% of his victories coming via KO/TKO and has also finished many of his past foes with the right hand, despite being a southpaw. Moreover, both love to throw fast and strong combinations and are not afraid to go to war if need be. So what could be the game changer this time around? Well, as we saw in Sor Rungvisai vs. Chocolatito II, it’s obvious that Srisaket had studied him and managed to find a chink in Gonzalez’s armor, which led to the fight being over in just 4 rounds. So the question that comes to mind is that IF history can repeat itself. Could Srisaket have spotted a weakness in Estrada’s gameplan from their previous encounter? Or will Estrada surprise Srisaket with some new tricks? We will find out on April 26.
Although often described as a division with no depth the Minimumweight division is current a really interesting one, with several notable fighters all in or around world level. One of these is WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (52-0, 18), who notched his 52nd straight win last November, as he defeated Mektison Marganti in a stay busy bout. Not only is Wanheng the holder of a perfect 52 fight winning record, but he is also the longest reigning active male world champion, having held the title for over 4 years and making 10 defenses.
In the coming days Wanheng will seek his 11th defense of the title, as he takes on former WBO champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6-6, 7) in what will be a second meeting between the two men.
These two first fought in 2017, when Fukuhara gave Wanheng a serious test and could well have got the decision had the bout not been held in Thailand. Now, more than a year later, Fukuhara returns for a second shot at the Thai champion.
Aged 33 Wanheng is an old man for the smaller weight classes, especially when you consider he has had over 50 bouts, more than 415 professional rounds and has been a professional for more than 12 years. Despite that he hasn't taken much damage and he is a defensively responsible fighter, with a tight guard and a good boxing brain.
Not only is Wanheng defensively smart but he's also offensively smart too. He's not a big puncher, but he's an accurate, clean puncher. He rarely throws when he's out of position or off balance and fires in good sharp counters, applies good pressure behind his guard and unleashes some really impressive combinations. Whilst a smart fighter he doesn't have much in terms of power, he's not the hardest worker, or the quickest out there, and he gets older we suspect that he will become slower and will throw less and less.
Aged 29 Fukuhara is the much younger fighter. Like Wanehng he is a veteran, with more than 10 years of professional experience and over 200 rounds of action. Despite also being a veteran he is stylistically very different to the Thai, relying on work rate, aggression and desire rather than ring IQ and clean punching. Technically he is rather limited, but his will to win is really impressive.
Fukuhara's has had an up and down career. In terms of the highs he reached the final of the 2009 Rookie of the Year, won the Japanese national title in 2015 and the WBO title in 2017. As for lows he has lost most of his notable bouts, including a loss in 2013 to the then debuting Takuma Inoue and losses in 2017 to Ryuya Yamanaka and Menayothin.
We don't think Wanheng will extend his winning record for too much longer. He has been pushed close numerous times in recent bouts, but we do suspect that he will be protected by the conditions and officiating in Thailand for as long as he can be. We think that will play a major role here, in what we're expecting will be a razor close bout, but one which again sees the champion edging the bout in the eyes of the judges.
Fukuhara will set a high work rate, he knows he has too, but unless he can really hurt Wanheng he doesn't have much of a chance of getting the decision in the Land of Smiles and instead we're expecting a close judges decision to the Thai.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On March 16, 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka defends his WBO Flyweight title against former double titlist Ryoichi Taguchi, in Gifu, Japan.
Kosei Tanaka (12-0/7 KOs) is considered by many to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sports event. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World championships.
Tanaka turned pro on November 10 of 2013, the same day he turned 18. After winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked Japanese fighter Ryuji Hara (23-2) for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men fight at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the 6th and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans at Korakuen Hall. Finally, in the 10th, Tanaka delivered a brutal nonstop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage thus gaining him the OPBF crown.
In 2015, Tanaka became the Minimumweight World champion, after he fought and beat Julian Yedras (24-4) for the vacant WBO title. His first and only defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (19-3) in December. Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting caught by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even got dropped, before knocking Saludar out to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the WBO World title in 2018)
After that fight, Tanaka moved up to Light Flyweight and soon won this division’s world title as well, when he TKOed former World champion Moises Fuentes (25-6) in 2016. He successfully defended the WBO championship twice against future World title holder Angel Acosta (19-1) and WBA Asia champion Rangsan Chayanram (16-2). It’s worth mentioning that all of Acosta’s 19 wins have come via KO. Also, much like in the Saluda fight, Tanaka’s fighting style got him in trouble again during his encounter with Rangsan. In what was supposed to be an easy match before challenging the WBA World champion Ryoichi Taguchi in a unification bout, it turned out to be one of his toughest matches yet. Not only the Thai fighter knocked him down in the opening round but even when Tanaka won, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out from the much anticipated double title fight.
When Tanaka returned to the ring in 2018, his goal was to become a 3 division World champion. As a Flyweight, he defeated the interim WBO Oriental champion and then unbeaten fighter, Ronnie Baldonado (13-1), earning a title shot against Sho Kimura (17-2). In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of some of these exchanges. In the end, Tanaka was awarded with the decision and the WBO Flyweight World championship, becoming a 3 weight class king, at only 23 years of age. As fate would have it, his initial defense will be against the man he wanted to face back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi.
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3/12 KOs) after a short amateur career, made his pro debut in 2006, while only 19. For the next 7 years, he was building a name for himself, amassing a record of 19 wins, 2 decision losses and 1 draw, including victories over Norihito Tanaka (18-7), Tetsuya Hisada (33-9) and future WBC World champion Yu Kimura (18-3).
In 2014, Taguchi faced former IBF Strawweight World champion Florante Condes (27-10). Despite getting dropped twice, the Japanese star worked the body of the veteran and controlled the pace of the fight, keeping a much aggressive Condes at bay, thus eventually earning the unanimous decision and his biggest victory at the time. That win put him in world title contention and on New Year’s Eve, Taguchi went head to head with the WBA Light Flyweight champion Alberto Rossel (34-9), who was riding an 8 fight winning streak. Much like in the previous fight, Taguchi implemented a similar strategy and even scored 2 knockdowns, both via a left body hook. After an action packed second half, Taguchi left Ota City the new WBA World champion.
His first title defense was against former WBA Strawweight World champion Ekkawit Songnui (48-6). In what was a one sided beatdown, Taguchi knocked the Thai challenger down an impressive total of 5 times through out the fight, mostly with the right cross, before the referee stopped it. After dispatching journeyman Luis de la Rosa (25-13) and Juan Jose Landaeta (27-9), he met fellow countryman Ryo Miyazaki (24-2), former WBA Strawweight World titlist as well as Japanese & OPBF Light Flyweight champion. It was a back and forth affair where both men gave it their all. Taguchi was once again declared the victor and was named WBA’s MVP Player of the month (August 2016).
Taguchi fought unbeaten Carlos Canizales (21-0), a few months later, to a draw and also outboxed mandatory challenger Robert Barrera (22-2) in every single round, picking his body apart and finishing him off in the 9th, after a barrage of strikes. Since the aforementioned unification bout with WBO champion Tanaka didn’t materialize, Taguchi would face the IBF champion Milan Melindo (37-4), on December 31st of 2017, exactly 3 years after he won the WBA title. Melindo had a strong 2017, stopping 3 division champion Akira Yaegashi (27-6) in just the 1st round to win the title and also defending it against Hekkie Budler (32-4). Taguchi slowly established his dominance as the match progressed, wearing Melindo down, making him fight his fight and keeping him close while constantly attacking the body. When it was all said and done, Taguchi was declared unified WBA Super, IBF & The Ring Light Flyweight World champion. Unfortunately that reign wouldn’t last as he would lose all of his belts to Budler, this past May, in a very even encounter. Now returning to the ring almost a year later, Taguchi will once again fight for gold, but this time in a different division than he is used to.
As in every Tanaka fight, the question is, will this be the time his recklessness finally proves to be his undoing ? It is well known that Tanaka’s brawling style has put him in dangerous positions, almost even costing him 2 world title fights (Saludar and Chayanram) and that he was only saved by his incredible knockout power and hand speed. Taguchi, unlike most of Tanaka’s opponents, won’t try to engage in an all out war. Instead, he will try to slow him down and systematically punish him with body shots. Taguchi really excels the longer the fight goes. 15 of his 27 wins have gone the distance, compared to Tanaka’s 5 out of 12 (although in world title matches they are even 3-3). Despite all that, Tanaka always finds a way to come out on top, no matter the odds. So to sum this up, it’s obvious that Taguchi has all the tools to succeed at Flyweight and become a World champion, but can he do it against the seemingly unbeatable Tanaka ? We will find out this Saturday in the land of the rising sun.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On March 9th, in Verona, Wisconsin, Dmitry Bivol will defend the WBA Light Heavyweight World Championship against top contender Joe Smith Jr.
Dmitry Bivol (15-0/11 KOs) is considered to be one of the top boxers of his division today (currently ranked #3 by the Ring & BoxRec). Boasting an amateur record of 268 wins and only 15 losses, Bivol won numerous titles from 2006 to 2014, including youth and junior World championships, 2 National tournaments as well as gold at the 2013 World Combat Games.
Turned pro in 2014 (23 years old) and in 15 months he had already garnered 6 victories, all stoppages. During that time Bivol gained the WBC U.S. Silver & WBA Intercontinental titles, proving his skills early on in his career, while establishing his right hand as a legit threat to anyone that stepped into the ring with him.
In May of 2016, the Russian prodigy went toe to toe with the reigning WBA interim World champion Felix Valera, for the Light Heavyweight strap. Valera was also undefeated at the time, standing at 13-0, with 12 stoppages, most of them coming in the first round. Bivol outboxed the champion in every single round, and even dropped him twice, earning a wide unanimous decision and of course the interim championship.
Bivol proceeded to defend his belt against Robert Berridge (30-7) and Samuel Clarkson (21-5) in 2 one sided beatdowns, knocking them down three times each before getting the TKO win in the 4th round. He then faced 30 fight veteran Cedric Agnew, in a non title match. Bivol dropped him in 2 minutes of the very 1st round with a fast combination and continued to punishing him until the referee waved the fight off in the 4th. It’s worth mentioning that Agnew’s only KO loss prior to this was against fellow Russian champion Kovalev, who needed 7 rounds to get the job done. In these last 3 bouts, Bivol showcased some excellent bodywork, which we hadn’t seen much from him in the past.
After Badou Jack vacated the WBA title, Bivol was promoted to Regular champion. As such, he marked his inaugural title defense over Trent Broadhurst, in November of 2017. The Australian was on a 13 fight winning streak and hadn’t lost in 6 years. Bivol stopped him with a perfectly placed right on the chin, in the very last second of the 1st round.
In 2018, Bivol defended his World title thrice, against Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. Barrera got dominated for 12 consecutive rounds, taking shots nonstop until a right hook sealed the deal. Chilemba had already suffered back to back losses to Alvarez, Kovalev and Gvozdyk, thus not proving to be much of a challenge. The most significant out of the three was the former WBC World champion Pascal, who put up a much better fight that the other two, connecting with some good punches through out the fight, but it wasn’t enough overall to take the belt away from Bivol, who systematically picked him apart and got the win one more time. Now for his 5th one, he will have to face a much stronger boxer this time.
Joe Smith Jr. (24-2/20 KOs), a bona fide KO artist with knockout power in both of his hands, has finished most of his opponents within 6 rounds. 2019 will mark the young veteran’s 10th anniversary into the sport, as he aims to finally add a World championship to his collection.
His first major success came in 2016, when he took on world title contender Andrzej Fonfara (30-5) for the WBC International title. In a surprising turn of events, Smith put the Polish fighter down in the midway of the opening round, before finishing him off with a left & right hook combination a few seconds later.
However, Smith’s biggest test came 6 months later, as he was set to go face to face with legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins, in the main event of a Golden Boy show, broadcasted live on HBO. Hopkins, the 2 division World, Lineal & Ring champion, came out of retirement for one last match and the opportunity to go out with a win and another belt. After 8 action packed rounds, Smith shocked the world again when he caught Hopkins with a thunderous left uppercut, which knocked him out of the ring. Unable to respond to the 20 count, Smith was declared the winner, in what definitely must be his most important victory to date.
Smith’s momentum was momentarily cut short in 2017 after losing to Sullivan Barrera in a world title eliminator. Despite dropping Barrera in the 1st, he didn’t do enough, as the fight progressed, to get the decision. He returned to action almost a year later (Smith’s jaw was broken in the Barrera match) and completely dominated Melvin Russell, putting himself again in world title contention.
This could be Bivol’s toughest fight yet. Smith has the highest KO ratio of any of Bivol’s previous opponents (77%), while he’s also the youngest and the most experienced one, in terms of years competing as a pro. He might not be the most technically sound boxer in the division but he’s certainly one of the strongest punchers. Smith’s style can be described as aggressive, always moving forward, trying to get the KO as soon as possible and that strategy has worked very well for him thus far (minus 2 fights). On the other hand, Bivol is as technically sound as it gets. He never rushes to finish the fight. He stays patient, picking his shots and most times manages to drop his opponent, usually with a well calculated right hand. If he (Bivol’s rival) manages to get back up, then and only then Bivol storms in with incredibly fast (for his weight class) combinations, going for the kill, and if he doesn’t go down again, Bivol disengages and starts over. To conclude with, the only unknown factor here is if Bivol can withstand Smith’s power. If yes, then a 5th successful title defense is almost guaranteed, as he will try to take this to the distance, which will play in his favour, since Smith has never gone to the 12th round. If not, then Smith will be crowned the 43rd WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion ! Either way, we will get our answer this coming Saturday.
The Minmumweight division has continued to go under-the-radar in recent years despite some amazing fighters, and fights, down at 105lbs. On February 26th we'll get another potentially sensational fight as Vic Saludar (18-3, 10) defends the WBO title against Japanese challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-2, 7), in what has the potential to be a FOTY contender.
The 28 year old Saludar claimed the title last year, when he defeated Ryuya Yamanaka in an underrated 12 round bout back in July, exactly 5 years after his debut. That was his second world title fight, after suffering a KO loss to Kosei Tanaka back at the end of 2015. In both bouts the Filipino showed how good he was, and showed that he was a strong, powerful, hard hitting fighter with real ambition. He was technically the most rounded fighter, but more technical than many give his credit for. He was accurate, exciting, and very determined.
After turning professional in 2013 Saludar had been tipped for big things. His career took a hit early however when he pulled out of his third bout, suffering a fractured hand against Powell Balaba just 4 months after his debut.He would rebuild to get the shot at Tanaka and drop Tanaka before being stopped himself, whilst well up on the scorecards. He would then begin a charge towards a second world title fight. That charge hit a bump when he lost to Toto Landero, but he bounced back from that defeat and ended up defeating Yamanaka, and sadly forcing Yamanaka to retire following a small brain bleed.
Although his record is 18-3 (10) Saludar is a huge puncher. He dropped Tanaka, he dropped and badly hurt Yamanaka. He's not the type of guy you choose to get into a war with, and instead you attempt to outbox him, take advantage of his technical flaws and win rounds, hoping to make the most of his mistakes. He's perhaps not the toughest fighter out there, but it did take a beauty of a body punch from Tanaka to stop him, but he is rather rugged.
Taniguchi also has a misleading record, with 2 losses in his first 13 fights. He could however be 13-0 (7) and nobody would have criticised the decisions, with both of his losses coming in razor thin majority decisions. Not only have they come by the narrowest of margins, but they have also come at a very high level. His first loss was to the then 12-0 Reiya Konishi in a Japanese title fight, whilst the second was to the then OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura, who was 11-0. Those losses have come to fighters who are going to be in the world title mix for years to come.
Taniguchi turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi and both were expected to be on a similar career trajectory, with Watanabe matching them on the same shows early in their careers. Since then Kyoguchi has become one of the faces of Japanese boxing, becoming a 2-weight champion. Taniguchi hasn't quite had the same success, suffering his two losses and also suffering some injuries, that have slowed his rise. He did however, claim his first title last year, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in November in Thailand to open up this fight.
Taniguchi is a skilled boxer-puncher, with a good output, a real toughness and an exciting style that should make for a thrilling clash with Saludar. He's also a fighter who has solid power, a determined mentality and nice variety to his punches. We'd go as far as to say that Taniguchi is the better pure boxer, whilst Saludar is the bigger single puncher. Taniguchi is however a southpaw, and that may prove to be a key factor.
We're expecting a highly skilled chess match with knights removed, and shotguns replacing them. We can't help but imagine both will be unloading bombs, looking to take the other out. We believe the better skills of Taniguchi will prove to be a key for him, but Saludar will certainly be able to hurt the challenger if he lands cleanly, and there will always be a real sense of danger when he connects.
We see this being a close and competitive bout, but we do see Taniguchi doing enough to take the take in a clear, but very hard fought, decision.
In 2018 we saw Jaime Munguia (31-0, 26) go from the man that couldn't get sanctioned to face Gennady Golovkin to one of the most must watch fighters on the planet. He went from relative obscurity to become the WBO Light Middleweight champion, and managed to fit in 2 defenses in what was an incredible break out year for the baby faced Mexican. To begin 2019 he faces Japanese challenger Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7), in what will be Munguia's third defense of the title he won in May, when he stopped Sadam Ali, and will be Inoue's first world title fight.
Of the two men it's clear the champion who is the more well known, thanks in part to a breakout 2018. At the start of last year Munguia was a 21 year old Mexican prospect with a 26-0 (22) record, who's only bout outside of Mexico was a win over Paul Valenzuela in Las Vegas, and even that was off TV. By the end of the year he was one of the leading Light Middleweights on the planet, a must watch fighter and someone who was being seen as the possible Mexican successor to Saul Alvarez. He would fit 5 fights into 2018 including his title win over Sadam Ali and title defenses against Liam Smith and Brandon Cook, and build a huge fan base in a very short amount of time.
In the ring Munguia is an all action fighter. He's technically very flawed but is a huge Light Middleweight, with an excellent engine, a high out put, a lot of power, an ability to soak up punishment. The technical flaws, most of which are defensive, are covered up by Munguia's hyper aggressive style. Compubox recorded Munguia as throwing well over 800 punches in his 12 round bout against Liam Smith, an incredible number for a world title bout at Light Middleweight. Worryingly many of those shots were full blooded power shots, and he looks like the fighter who is naturally very heavy handed.
Inoue, no relation to Naoya Inoue, is a fighter who had a huge 2017 in terms of regional success but saw 2018 as a near write off. The 29 year old from Tokyo has done it all on the regional level, unifying the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight titles, and doing so in 7 months last year. As a professional his biggest wins are over the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Ratchasi Sithsaithong and Yuki Nonaka, none of whom are really known outside of the Oriental region. Sadly 2018 saw him fight only once, taking a decision over Nonaka in a world title eliminator, due to protracted talks to face Julian Williams in a final eliminator, talks that never got sorted.
In the ring Inoue is a relatively small Light Middleweight, who has shown an ability to box or brawl at regional level. Sadly for him he isn't a big puncher, he's also not the quickest fighter out there, or the most defensively sound. Despite not having anything special he is a solid all round, often breaking opponents down in the middle rounds, with 3 of his wins last year coming by stoppage in the second half of fights. He'll need to rely on skills and a flawless game plan here, but unfortunately even that might not be enough to over-come Munguia.
We don't think anyone on the planet will have an easy time with Mungia, even the best fighters at Middleweight never mind Light Middleweight. Sadly for Inoue he's stylistically up against it here, and whilst we suspect Inoue won't struggle to find Munguia who won't have the tools to cope with the rampaging Mexican, who will break down the Japanese challenger, possibly even in the first half of the fight. We would love to see Inoue get the upset, but sadly we don't see how he can defeat Munguia, barring a freak accident from the Mexican
The Featherweight division is on of the most fragmented in the sport right now, with no unified champions and no clear #1. In fact it's not really clear on the ordering of any of the champions, and inactivity of certain fighters atop the division doesn't help matter. This coming Saturday we get a WBA "regular" title bout in the division, as defending champion Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) defends his belt against Chinese challenger Can Xu (15-2, 2). No matter who wins the division will remain a huge mess at the top, though at the very least this bout should remove a contender from the very messy WBA title picture.
We say it's a messy title scene for the WBA as they currently have 3 champions in the division. Rojas, the "regular" champion, Leo Santa Cruz, the "Super champion" and Jhack Tepora, the "interim" champion [ Ed's note - Tepora will be defending the "interim" title against Hugo Ruiz the day AFTER this preview goes live]. It appears none of the men are likely to face off any time soon, and instead the 3 titles will float around for time. Rather than linger on that, and politics of the WBA, we'll get on to the preview.
Rojas, from Puerto Rico, is one of the division's many over-looked fighters. He's tough, heavy handed, aggressive, physically strong and a nightmare for many in the division. Technically he is flawed, a rough around the edges fighter who can be out boxed, out sped and out thought, though few will fancy their chances of out fighting him. He comes forward behind a tight guard, looks to go to work up close and turn things into a fighter. He has been down before, and actually lost a decision last time out to Jospeh Diaz but kept the title due to Diaz failing to make weight. Diaz beat him by establishing the range, using a lot of jabs and countering well, setting a gameplan that fighters could use to beat Rojas in the future, if they have a similar skill level and toughness to Diaz.
Although he can be out boxed Rojas is the type of fighter who will be a nightmare for anyone. He will press the action, come forward and make even the best boxers work incredibly hard to earn a win. His aggression, physical strength an will to win are very hard to over-come.
Xu is looking to become the third Chinese male to win a world title, following Xiong Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, he's also looking to become their first champion above 112lbs. He's a relative unknown on the international scene, though is relatively well known in Asia, where he has fought all but 1 bout. In Asia he has scored notable wins against the likes Hurricane Futa, Kris George, Corey McConnell, Spicy Matsushita and Nehomar Cermeno. Outside of Asia his only bout saw him being surprisingly pushed all the way by Enrique Bernache last September, and in fact that bout almost cost him this title fight.
In the ring Xu is far from a puncher. He's an aggressive boxer, who lets his hands go a lot, but lacks power, and his stoppages have come from wearing opponents down. Despite his high work rate he does lack finesse in a lot of what he does, though has sparred with top fighters to try and develop his skills and polish things off. That sparring, including sparring with Naoya Inoue, will help improve Xu but the reality is that he's never going to be a a fluid, natural fighter. More a basic fighter, who works hard for results, especially at a level like this.
Given that both men like to let their hands go, both come forward and neither looks great on the back foot we're expecting these two to meet center ring. Sadly for Xu meeting with Rojas in the ring isn't a wise idea, and we suspect that Rojas' power and psychical strength will be the difference. Xu will be forced to back up, and we don't think he'll be effective on the back foot, instead we see him being broken down in the second half of the fight.
This coming Saturday we get the first major US bout featuring an Asian fighter, as Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39) defends his WBA Welterweight title against controversial American Adrien Broner (33-3-1-1, 24). For Pacquiao the bout will be the first of the title he won last July, when he stopped Lucas Matthysse, whilst Broner will be looking to reclaim the title he lost to Marcos Maidana in 2013.
At the age of 40 it's hard to know exactly what Pacquiao has left, however last time out he looked better than he had in a while, with some new found hunger and desire. It wasn't the Pacquiao of his heyday, where he was a destructive maelstrom of punches, but it was a sharp, hard hitting and smart Pacquiao. He was accurate, landing left hands at will and using his experience and skills to stop Matthysse. Amazingly the stoppage of Matthysse was Pacquiao's first since he stopped Miguel Cotto back in 2009.
At his very best Pacquiao was one of the all time greats, capable of living with the best in any era. Not only could have claim to have been one of the best, but he could also claim to have been one of the best in a number of divisions, having won world titles from 112lbs up to 154lbs. Now a days however it's clear that we're not looking at the same Pacquiao. He's still a very explosive southpaw, with a demonic straight left hand, however he has lost some speed, some ferocity and some of his energy. He's adapted his style well, and he's still a fantastic fighter, but not the man who defeated the likes of Chatchai Sasakul, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, among others.
An 80% Pacquiao would still be favoured over most fighters, but it's really not clear if we have an 80% Pacquiao or not. If we do it's always hard to bet against him.
Broner was once regarded as the heir apparent for Floyd Mayweater Jr. He was a skilled, counter puncher with a loud and brash attitude, that helped to generate a lot of buzz. He quickly went through the weigh classes, claiming titles from Super Featherweight to Welterweight, but it seemed like he move up due to an inability to control his weight, rather than naturally growing into bigger divisions.At the lower weights he was physically strong, powerful, quick and explosive. As he's moved up in weight he's kept the quickness, but is less physically imposing, less destructive and less active, in fact he's rather lazy in the ring, with low out put.
Technically Broner is a very talented fighter. When he actually uses his brain he's excellent. He's a sharp puncher, has a solid defense, impressive power and good timing. Sadly however his biggest issues in boxing, and it seems outside of boxing, is his brain and he's proven to not be the smartest or most dedicated fighter. Instead he's proving to be someone willing to derail his own career on a regular basis. If he clicks and can get up for a fight, and maintain the mental aspect that he needs he can be a major player, at least at Light Welterweight, but we're unsure whether he will ever make the most of his potential.
Given the age of Pacquiao we won't rule out a Broner win, but that would be an upset. We suspect Pacquiao will box to orders, move, stay busy and use his speed to simply out box a lazy Broner. Broner does have the skills and power to beat a faded Pacquiao, but we're not sure he has the mentality to beat the Filipino icon, even a 40 year old Pacquiao.
Our prediction is a wide UD to Pacquiao on this one.
On January 19th our attention, at least later in the day, will be in Nevada, as PBC put on a stacked card in association with numerous promoters. One of the many notable bouts on that card will see unbeaten Filipino Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) make his first defense of the WBA "interim" Featherweight title, as he takes on Mexican veteran Hugo Ruiz (38-4, 33). On paper this should be a very explosive and exciting match up between two heavy-handed fighters, who are both flawed, but exciting.
Tepora had long been seen as a rising prospect on the Filipino scene, and put his name on the international stage in 2017 when he scored a KO of the year contender against Lusanda Komanisi in South Africa. That was Tepora's 16th stoppage win in 21 bouts and his first outside of the Philippines. He built on that win last July in Malaysia by stopping Edivaldo Ortega in 9 rounds, to claim the WBA interim title. In both of those bouts Tepora looked a bit slow, and technically flawed, but was aggressive, heavy-handed and showed that even his jab could put opponents on the back foot.
Fighting from the southpaw stance, with a lot of power, Tepora is a real danger man and the 25 year old will be looking to have a lengthy reign with that title. Sadly however he's not fought since his title winning effort and has failed to really build on that win, something he'll be looking to do when he faces Ruiz. It should be noted that Tepora, at 5'6" is a bit on the short side for a top Featherweight, though has grown into the division, having debuted in 2012 as a Flyweight. He's powerful and a fully mature fighter even if he lacks a bit in terms of experience at the top-level.
The 30 year old Ruiz has had a long career, and a pretty interesting one at that. he would lose an early career bout to Enrique Quevedo before rebuilding to become the WBA "interim" Bantamweight champion in 2011. He held the interim title at 118lbs until challenging "regular" champion Koki Kameda in 2012, losing a close decision to Kameda in Osaka. He would later move up in weight and go 1-1 with Julio Ceja, winning the second bout with Ceja to claim the WBC Super Bantamweight title. That title reign didn't last long, with Ceja losing the title in Japan to Hozumi Hasegawa, in what would be Hasegawa's final bout. Since then he has returned to the ring, winning a couple of low key bouts in Mexico, and decided to move up in weight.
In the ring Ruiz is a powerful boxer-puncher, who is huge for the lower weight classes at almost 5'10". We wonder how much he has taken out of himself by boiling down in the past, and how much better he might end up being at 126lbs. By that same token we have seen him hurt by smaller men and we have to wonder how he copes if he's caught by a bomb by a true Featherweight. We also wonder how his nose, which was injured against Hasegawa, will hold up if he gets tagged on it.
Technically Ruiz is the taller, rangier fighter and also the more technically skilled of the two men. He is however a man who has shown some frailties in the past and against Tepora that is a major issue. Tepora is not the type of guy you want to fight if there's any question marks about your durability.
We expect to see Ruiz give Tepora issues, especially early on, but Tepora will, sooner or later, cut the distance and break his man down, somewhere in the middle rounds, to stop Ruiz and record his first defense of the title. Hopefully that will then lead to a busy and exciting 2019 for Tepora, who should be kept busy and allowed to really build his name over the coming years.
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.