When we talk about modern day "hard luck" stories few fighters rival Rocky "The Road Warrior" Fuentes (35-6-2, 20) a man who has been on the verge of a world title fighter longer than some fighters have even been fighting. Thankfully though Fuentes's fortunes have changed this year and despite having visa issues preventing a bout in Puerto Rico he has come up smelling like roses and landed himself in a IBF Flyweight world title fight, finally he gets his chance.
Fuentes, who has been a professional since 2003 and although he doesn't sport an unbeaten record he does have a claim to being the over-looked fighter on the planet.
With 6 losses and 2 draws on his record some may be ruling out Fuentes as a world level fighter. It's worth noting however that he is currently on a 15 fight winning streak and is unbeaten in 6 years. His last loss came in December 2007 and since then he has improved drastically and gone from being a 21 year old boy to being a 27 year old man. That development hasn't just seen him stacking up wins but also scoring notable wins including a decision over Masafumi Okubo to claim the OPBF Flyweight title, a title he would defend against Shigetaka Ikehara, Hirofumi Mukai and Myung Ho Lee.
Unfortunately for Fuentes he has to travel for his world title fight. It shouldn't be a problem for a man known as "The Road Warrior", though Fuentes is 0-3-1 in Thailand where this bout will be, with 1 of his 2 stoppage losses coming there back in 2004. It is worth noting however that Fuentes hasn't fought in Thailand since he lost to one-time world title challenger Kaichon Sor Vorapin in 2006, when Fuentes himself was just 19.
Not only does Fuentes have to travel for his opportunity but he also has to take on an unbeaten foe in the form of Amnat Ruenroeng (11-0, 5), a Thai who was an amateur stand out and a product of the prison boxing system
Amnat is a fighter who, like many others in the sport, has used boxing to get away from a life of crime. He was sentenced to a long stretch before finding boxing and developing as a fighter and as a person. This development helped him get out of prison and helped him become an example of what boxing can do to help a person turn their life around. He went from burglary to national amateur champion and later competed on the international stage, scoring a notable victory over Kazuto Ioka and reaching the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In mid 2012 Amnat began his professional campaign. He was already in his 30's but knew that with amateur pedigree and skills he could be moved fast through the rankings. By the end of 2012 he had swiftly advanced his record to 7-0 (3) and seemed set to continue his rise in 2013. Despite his activity in 2012 Amnat spent 2013 much less active but more direct in his bouts. He picked up the IBF Asia Flyweight title and made a beeline for the IBF rankings attempting to fast track himself up to a title fight with that organisation, one that his promoters have good links with.
After the good 2013, in terms of climbing the IBF rankings, it seemed he was set on fighting IBF world champion Moruti Mthalane for the title. Sadly that bout broke down as Mthalane vacated his title rather than fight Amnat for relative pennies. Amnat however has gotten lucky in the fact that the IBF have allowed him to face Fuentes here in what looks like a fantastic match, arguably better than the Amnat/Mthalane bout that was originally announced.
As we know about Thai's they are often promoted in 1 of two ways. They are either given a prolonged start to their career fighting journeymen for years to pick up experience before moving on to a world title fight, or they are fast tracked up the rankings and in to a title fight. Amnat is certainly in the second category though oddly he doesn't fight like a Thai. He's not an out and out pressure fighter like many Thai's but instead he's a calculated boxer with his amateur pedigree certainly shining through. He picks his punches well, uses good straight shots and seems happier to fight at mid to long range than many of his compatriots. He's clearly a product of the amateur scene unlike many Thai's who come from kick boxing.
Whilst the Thai is a "non-Thai" like fighter it's fair to say that Fuentes is pretty much what we expect of a Filipino with power. He tends to be aggressive, with good power in both hands and seems to enjoy a fight. Although sometimes Fuentes looks reckless and he can be dropped he tends to believe in himself in enough to commit to his work to both the head and body. Unfortunately though he has been known to fight to his opponents level and this has seen him making some fights more difficult for himself than they need to be. Saying that however he does tend to make for some very fun fights with multiple knockdowns, as seen in his bout with Juan Kantun last time out.
Although Thai's are generally favoured, almost by default, when fighting at home this is very much a bout that we feel doesn't favour the home fighter. We're really thinking that although Amnat is talented and has home advantage Fuentes will know too much from his lengthy career and simply have too much desire. The Filipino has been made to wait, and wait and wait for his chance and now he has it he won't be wanting to leave the ring with out the belt.
Unfortunately for Amnat his 11 fights haven't prepared him for a fighter like Fuentes. They have been against a much lower caliber of fighter and although he's talented the fact he's 34 and been fast tracked has left him with issues in his game, issues we think Fuentes will take advantage of in the middle and later rounds of the bout as he grinds down the Thai.
Win or lose we expect Fuentes to put on the performance of his life. If Amnat can defeat him then the Thai really will be one to keep an eye on this year as he'll have announced himself in one of boxing's toughest divisions.
For those wanting to watch this contest, it will air live on Thai Channel 7on January 22nd.
One fighter, win or lose, who seems to have much of the boxing public against him is WBC Minimumweight champion Xiong Zhao Zhong (22-4-1, 12). Zhong, China's first ever world champion, appears completely unable to do anything right in the eyes of critical fans who seem to blame him for anything and everything.
When he first got his title fight, back in November 2012, Zhong had been given preferential treatment by the WBC. There's no arguing that and theres also no arguing that Filipino Denver Cuello took a payment to step aside so that China could have their first world champion. Cuello, who took the step aside payment, then got a fight with Zhong himself and lost that by majority decision in a bout that we felt Zhong had clearly on top in.
Zhong, despite fighting and beating Cuello, was denigrated due to the fact Cuello had injured his shoulder. It was brave from Cuello but Zhong had done what was decent and battled the top contender.
Unfortunately for Zhong he was again chastised when the Chinese government refused to allow him to fight Omari Kimweri. Zhong, wanting to meet TV commitments and expectations of fans, was forced to take on a much less testing Thai who took the fight late. It wasn't a "world level fight" but Zhong was stuck between letting down down his fans in China or taking an easy defense. Fans worldwide can criticise but it was the first time a Chinese champion had ever defended a world title at China and that alone meant a lot.
Zhong will again be trying to win fans over as he takes on Mexico's Oswaldo Novoa (12-4-1, 7), the WBC #2 ranked and IBF #7 ranked challenger.
Although somewhat unknown Novoa is well regarded with not just the WBC and IBF decrying him as world class but also Boxrec (where he is #7 ranked). These rankings haven't come from any particular victory but more the series of 5 straight, 3 by KO, victories that Novoa has strung together over the last 18 months or so. These victories, which included a decision over one-time interim title challenger Jose Alfredo Zuniga and a stoppage over former Zhong foe Javier Martinez Resendiz have both really worked in his favour.
Interestingly for a man with 4 losses on his record Novoa has actually faced decent competition and two of those who have beaten him, Carlos Velarde and Jesus Silvestre, have gone on to fight for the WBA version of the world title whilst another who has beaten him, Jose Argumedo, has twice been beaten by Novoa.
What we have with Novoa is a very aggressive puncher. He goes to the ring to fight and doesn't seem to mind what hand he hits you with. It's not really pretty but it does tend to be exciting and is the sort of thing that any fight fan loves. A two handed offensive machine with a little bit of craziness thrown in for good measure. It's this aggressiveness that has seen hm record so many stoppages and keep even his losses close. On the flipside however he does leave himself open and does seem to regularly over-commit to shots.
Although Novoa is a big puncher he doesn't look as physically strong as Zhong who is boxing's version of a tank. Everything about Zhong says he's a hard man. He just looks tough, as if he were carved out of concrete and then taught to fight. Despite looking so big and strong he's not actually a big puncher, though he does tend to be able to hurt opponents with his heavy shots esepcially to the body as he showed last time out. It's fair to say he's not a world class puncher but his shots are all thrown with the intention of making an opponent not ant to take another one.
With Novoa being such an openly aggressive fighter this has the markings of a really great fight. Novoa will come forward with his aggression, Zhong will come forward relying on his strength and as a result we should see two men stand toe-to-toe freely swinging at each other in the hope of ending the other mans chances. Unfortunately for that potential excitement we also have the risk of a headclash calling an early early conclusion to the bout and both men have had headclashes in the recent bouts.
As well as the potential excitement via a clash of styles we also have excitement in the fact both men have been down. This one could end at any time and more over it could end in spectacular fashion. If you like a fight we really reccomend tuning in to this one.
As for a prediction we favour Zhong. The Chinese fighter might not be everyone's cup of tea though he's a genuine world level fighter and he's proven to be much better than people give him credit for, we think we'll see a further improved version of Zhong managing to defeat a tiring Novoa in what will be a real humdinger.
When we look back at 2013 it's fair to say that Gennady Golovkin (28-0, 25) had a real year to remember. The WBA Middleweight champion not only defended his world title 4 times but also scored 2 credible KO of the year contenders and became a man on the verge of becoming a genuine world star.
Unfortunately when you score KO of the year contenders on a regular basis you tend not to be the type of guy who has opponents lining up to fight you. In fact you tend to become a bit of an avoided fighter, even if you do hold a world title. This has unfortunately become the case with Golovkin who seems to have more people running from him than almost any other fighter in the sport right now.
The most obvious ducking of Golovkin came by Britain's Martin Murray who was supposed to fight Golovkin for the WBA world title on February 1st in Monaco. Murray however tried to play boxing politics and instead tried to sign up to fight Jarrod Fletcher on the card for what he expected to be the vacant WBA belt. The WBA, seeing what was going on, seemed unwilling to play ball.
Unfortunately by the time the WBA had sorted their own house out Golovkin had an opponent lined up, albeit a disappointing on in the form of Osumanu Adama (22-3, 16).
Although not an opponent any fan wanted to see Golovkin in with we expect Adama to actually make for an entertaining opponent. The Ghanian born American based fighter may not be on many people's top 15 Middleweights though he's a fighter who appears to have a few things going for him. Firstly he's tough, in 25 fights he has never been stopped, secondly he's confident, or at least he's talking a big fight, and thirdly he allows Golovkin to be compared to the highly regarded Daniel Geale who took a workmanlike decision over Adama less than 2 years ago.
Whilst not the greatest fighter on the planet Adama does serve a purpose, he can keep Golovkin busy and at least let the Kazakh have a fight in the early part of the year. He's may not be the most talented, freshest, fastest or powerful fighter on the planet but credit needs to be given to Adama's bravery for stepping in the ring with Golovkin.
For his bravery however we can't see anything but a loss for Adama, and a painful one at that. Golovkin is just better in every department. The Kazakh is more skilled, tougher, more powerful, faster, better judge of timing and distance, has a more complete arsenal, excellent footwork and amazing balance. We're not going to go as far as to say Golovkin is the perfect fighter or unbeatable, but it will take a very special fighter to beat and Adama isn't special, merely brave.
Going in to this fight Golovkin will know that he's expected to win and will also know that if he keeps winning major paydays will come his way. He'll also know that they will come even quicker if he continues to leave fighters unconscious with eye catching knockouts. If Golovkin can do what he did to Nobuhiro Ishida last time he fought in Monaco, leaving Ishida out cold lying between the ropes, then this bout will have served it's purpose, it'll have gotten him another highlight reel knockout. It's that, that we think will be the aim here.
Expect to see the teak tough Adama left out cold from a single shot as Golovkin continues to leave a path of carnage in his wake. Then lets hope one of the other, supposedly world level, Middleweights will have the stones to fight Golovkin in a genuinely meaningful contest.
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.