Japanese boxing ended 2015 on a real high with a number of notable wins by Japanese fighters in world title bouts. Sadly the momentum of 2015 hasn't really carried over into early 2016, which has been a disappointingly quiet period for Japanese boxing.
The period has been so quiet that local fans in Japan don't get to see a world title fight on Japanese soil until May 4th, when they do get two world title bouts.
The first of those will see WBC Light Flyweight champion Yu Kimura (18-2-1, 3) defending his title for the first time. The 32 year old Teiken fighter, who upset Pedro Guevara last November, will not be having the typical “easy” first defense but will instead be up against top contender Ganigan Lopez (26-6, 17).
The talented, and gutsy, Kimura was touted as a potential world champion very early in his career but it took more than 9 years for him to reach the pinnacle of the sport. On his route there the talented, speedy and under-rated, fighter claimed the Japanese title and recorded 3 defenses of the title.
Although lacking many big name wins Kimura has beaten Guevara, obviously, as well as current Japanese champion Tatsuya Fukuhara and former champion Kenichi Horikawa as well as a credible win over Yuki Chinen. When it comes to his losses they have been to current world champion Ryoichi Taguchi and former world title challenger Shin Ono.
Kimura showed his gutsiness against Guevara, rebuilding from a poor start to take a narrow win over the talented Mexican and proved a lot. We knew he was talented, gutsy and fast but in that bout he proved he really could turn fights around, he proved he could bite down on his gum shield go to war and score a world class win over 12 rounds.
When it comes to Lopez the challenger is a tested fighter who has mixed with numerous world class fighters. That has seen him suffer losses to the likes of Juan Palacios, Adrian Hernandez, Denver Cuello and Pedro Guevara whilst scoring wins over the likes of Mario Rodriguez and Luis Ceja. During his 32 fight career he has suffered just a single stoppage loss, to Cuello, and his last notable fight was a narrow loss to Guevara.
In the ring Lopez is a heavy handed southpaw with an aggressive mentality and whilst not the most skilled he is a real handful for most of the fighters at 108lbs. He comes solid, though unspectacular skills, with a genuine toughness and spiteful power. All that comes with the awkward southpaw stance and a 34 he'll know that this could well be his final chance at the top level.
In many ways this fight is being widely over-looked yet could, potentially, be a fire cracker of the fight with both possibly choosing to go to war and having a fire-fight in the centre of the ring. On paper that seems a bad idea for Kimura, but he'll know that smothering Lopez's work would be in his favour. For Lopez the idea of fighting in close quarters does give him the advantage of possibly scoring a stoppage, something he may feel he needs. This really could be a very special bout.
On paper we have to favour Kimura, who is the clear betting favourite, however Lopez is a very under-dog.
The Bantamweight division promised a lot for Japan last year but delivered little more than disappointment with a number of losses for fighters who were favoured, including Ryo Akaho, against Pungluang Sor Singyu in a WBO title fight, Tomoki Kameda, twice against Jamie McDonnell, and Shohei Omori, who came up short against Marlon Tapales in a world title eliminator.
Even when Japanese fighters won they were disappointing with the all conquering Shinsuke Yamanaka (24-0-2, 17) also failing to shine, defending his title twice. The first of those defenses was an expected and simple win over the horribly over-matched Diego Ricardo Santillan whilst the second of those defenses saw the Japanese puncher come up very fortunate against Anselmo Moreno.
On March 4th Yamanaka returns to the ring and hopes to return to his dominating best as he hunts a 10th defense of the WBC Bantamweight title, and faces off against Venezuelan warrior Liborio Solis (23-3-1, 10), a man who is well known to Japanese fans.
For Solis the bout will see him attempt to become a 2-weight world champion and look to record his third win in Japan, where he actually holds a 100% record with both previous wins being big ones. Not only is the challenger trying to keep his perfect Japanese record but also extend a 14 fight winning run.
The champion is widely regarded as the top Bantamweight and his reign as the WBC champion has been impressive, though relatively over-looked. He has yet to fight outside of Japan but has scored notable wins over the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai and Anselmo Moreno. Although some of those bouts were close he did the important thing of pulling out the victory and has got himself a solid looking resume. Not only has he scored some solid wins but he has done so whilst becoming a star in Japan and being able to draw a sizeable TV audience.
In the ring Yamanaka is well schooled, but not an elite level boxer. He has a very good variety of punches in his arsenal but often neglects many of his punches whilst looking to land his thunderbolt left hand. That left hand has got fight ending power, but recent he has looked overly predictable as he attempts to land it. That predictability has made life easier for recent opponents and whilst he has scored 14 stoppages in his last 17 he has gone the distance in 2 of his last 3.
Whilst the champion is regarded as a genuinely elite world level fighter the challenger is much more over-looked, despite having been a former WBA Super Flyweight champion and holding a number of notable wins on record. Those wins include a decision in Panama over Rafael Concepcion, who famously gave Nonito Donaire fits and a decision in Mexico against Jose Salgado, as well as a huge win in Japan over current world champion Kohei Kono and a controversial victory over Daiki Kameda.
To many fight fans in the East it was Solis's win over Kono that really solidified Solis as a world class talent, and it was a hell of a fight with both men being dropped and both going to war with Solis taking a majority decision over the popular Watanabe gym fighter. Whilst that win really made Solis, in many ways his win over Kameda was the beginning of the end for the Kameda clan and saw Solis missing weight for a Super Flyweight unification bout. Since then he has fought as high as Featherweight and last time out scored a win over Jonathan Baat.
In the ring the 33 year old Venezuelan Solis is a tough, busy action fighter. Technically he's not the biggest or most technically capable but he comes to fight and will continually bring pressure with a high work rate and look to turn everything in to a war. It's a style similar in some ways to Suriyan, who gave Yamanaka hell in 2014.
Given the styles of the two men we're expecting something really exciting here with Solis bringing the pressure and Yamanaka boxing on the backfoot, lining up the left hands in an attempt to take Solis out. The fight should be a high paced and all action affair with Solis bringing the fight but it's hard to see him having the power to hurt Yamanaka. The bout, we suspect, will look similar to Yamanaka's bout with Suriyan with Yamanaka doing enough to claim the win, but certainly not looking at his best.
So far world title action in Asia has been lacking for 2016 with Thailand really stealing all the headlines at the world level. That changes in early March, however the first title bout of the new month is another from the Land of Smiles and is one that in all honesty looks like being a bit of a mismatch in favour of the champion, and one of the sport's most under-rated champions.
That champion is 30 year old Thai Wanheng Menayothin (40-0, 15) who looks to defend the WBC Minimumweight title for the 4th time since ripping it out of the hands of Mexican Oswaldo Novoa in late 2014. The under-rated, and unbeaten, Thai will be up against a former title challenger in the form of Go Odaira (12-4-3, 1), a speed but feather fisted challenger.
Wanheng has one of the sports longest unbeaten records, and it's a record that dates back more than 9 years. Although he holds a long unbeaten record it's one that can easily be criticised with the Thai having only faced a couple of “names” in his 40 fights as a professional.
The first of those names was Florante Condes, who Wanheng beat way back in June 2011. Sadly it would take more than 3 years for him to then face Novoa, one of the poorest champions in recent memory. Since winning the title Wanheng has again failed to face notable opponents, and has instead beaten the likes of Jeffrey Galero, a promising but unproven Filipino youngster, Jerry Tomogdan and limited Korean slugger Young Gil Bae, none of whom deserved a world title fight.
Although Wanehng's record is very thin on names he really does pass the eye test. Defensively he's a very tough boxer to figure out, with a tight guard and an intelligent defensive game plan. Offensively he's a wonderful boxer to watch, applying grinding pressure from the early stages to eventually break his opponents, either mentally or physically. On paper one would assume he's not a puncher, but he has stopped 4 of his last 5 opponents and it seems that he manages to keep his grinding power into the later stages of bouts.
Of course with 40 bouts there will be some wear and tear, but given his tight defensive work Wanheng does look like a very young 30 year old, and despite having 319 rounds on his record he'll be around for a while yet.
Although the challenger it's fair to suggest that Odaira has mixed with better company than the champion. That's because Odaira has shared the ring with Katsunari Takayama, the only man to stop Odaira, with the two facing off at the end of 2014 in an IBF/WBO Minimumweight title bout. He has also fought Ryuji Hara and holds a notable win over former world title challenger Takashi Kunishige.
In the ring Odaira is all about speed, much like his mentor Susumu Hanagata, a former WBA Flyweight champion. Interestingly Hanagata will be one of the biggest helps that Odaira will have with the former champion having already experienced Thai conditions in a competitive loss to Chartchai Chionoi back in 1973, incidentally it was Chionoi who Hanagata beat for his world title in Japan the following year.
Blessed with incredible hand speed and brilliant movement Odaira's gameplan will be be based on getting his shots off and getting away. That sounds easy but in Thailand that's incredibly difficult so he actually spend extra days in Thailand getting used to the heat, humidity and other aspects of the weather. He'll be hoping that helps him prepare, but unfortunately for him the Thai conditions are only part of the problem, with Wanheng being another. Wanheng's style is one that will see Odaira working doubly hard to get out of range, and he will really have to work double hard to avoid the champion.
Although a wonderfully talented boxer this is a very uphill task for Odaira who seems likely to put into a small ring and chased down by Wanheng. We suspect the challenger will have a great start, and will looks sensational at times, but by the middle rounds he'll begin to slow and the champion will start to take over before forcing a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
(Image courtesy of The Champion - Thailand)
Last year we saw Thailand's Pungluang Sor Singyu (51-3, 35) [ผึ้งหลวง ส.สิงห์อยู่] become a 2-time world champion as he scored a 2nd round TKO win against Japan's Ryo Akaho to claim the WBO Bantamweight title, for the second time. He returns to the ring on February 12th to make the first defense of that title as he takes on little known Filipino fighter Jetro Pabustan (26-2-6, 7), in a voluntary defense of the title before a meeting later in the year with Marlon Tapales.
The experienced Thai, who turned professional back in 2004 after a long Muay Thai career, didn't have an amateur career but seemed a natural at boxing and less than 2 years after his professional debut he won bis first title, the WBC Youth title. As the WBC Youth champion he ran up some solid wins, over the likes of Monico Laurente and Eden Sonsona before losing in his first bout outside of Thailand, a very controversial loss to Stephane Jamoye in Belgium.
The loss to Jamoye was a set back for the young Thai but he rebuilt well and in 2009 he travelled to the Philippines for his second fight away from Thailand. This time he managed to score a win on his travels, stopping AJ Banal to claim the WBO Bantamweight title in a minor upset. Sadly Pungluang's reign was short lived, losing the title in his first defense as he went to Namibia and was beaten by Paulus Ambunda.
Following Punglunag's loss to Ambunda the WBO title went on a weird journey which saw Tomoki Kameda claim the title from Pungluang's conqueror before defending it against Pungluang, stopping the Thai with a vicious body shot, and Alejandro Hernandez. A third planned defense, against WBA “regular” champion Jamie McDonnell didn't sit well with the WBO who stripped Kameda and ordered the bout between Pungluang and Akaho, which Pungluang won in Ratchaburi.
In the ring the Thai is a smiling assassin. Since the loss to Jamoye back in 2009 he has gone a very impressive 28-2 (21) and is 5-0 (4) since losing to Kameda. He is a pressure fighter who described himself in a recent interview as “diligent” and that hard work shows with the Thai capable of keeping up a great pace for 12 rounds and being tough, with his only loss being the one to Kameda from a truly sickening body shot.
Whilst we know a lot about the champion, the same cannot be said of the challenger, who we really don't know a great deal about, and who we surprisingly lack solid footage of. The lack of footage, and wider knowledge, sees Pabustan living up to his nickname of the “Silent Operator”, with very few people raving about the 26 year old southpaw.
Stood at 5'7” he's a tall Bantamweight, and from his record it's clear he's a hard man to beat, with just 2 defeats from 34 bouts. Incidentally both of those losses, as well as 4 of his wins and 5 of his draws, have been technical decisions, suggesting that Pabustan's bouts are full of head clashes, and that may be an issue here. It's probably the fact he's a southpaw that there's so many headclashes in his bouts but it's very notable than 11 of 34 bouts have ended in a technical decision.
Although Pabustan has gone about things quietly there are some note worthy names on his record. These include Monico Laurente, who beat him in 2014, as well as the once touted Kenny Demecillo and former Minimumweight title challenger Vergilio Silvano. Sadly those three names aside it's hard to describe Pabustan's competition as being anything better than Filipino domestic level.
Notably Pabustan has never fought away from home and has never gone 12 rounds coming in to this one.
Whilst it can be hard to predict a bout on so little information we can't really imagine how Pabustan can win given, with his lack of experience, limited power and the fact the bout is in Thailand. He is the taller man, and is a southpaw, but he'll need to have the performance of his life to over-come Pungluang here.
The WBA “interim” titles have become a real issue, though one the WBA now seem to finally be stamping out. For a long time the titles were used to collect extra sanctioning fees for bouts that typically don't feature a world class fighter as opposed to temporarily filling a void following an injury to the champion. Sometimes they do however lead to good bouts, though bouts that could have been made as eliminators
In the talent laden Flyweight division, which features the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Kazuto Ioka, Juan Carlos Reveco, Amnat Ruenroeng, Brian Viloria, Takuya Kogawa, Edgar Sosa, Johnriel Casimero, Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep and McWilliams Arroyo the need for the best to face the best is obvious, especially for titles and for the major recognition that those top tier belts bring for the fights.
Unfortunately rather than the WBA forcing bouts between the likes of Ioka and Estrada they have allowed 3 title holders, and essentially extended a joke that was never funne. Estrada is the “Super” champion, Ioka the “regular” champion and little known Thai Stamp Kiatniwat the “interim” champion.
On December 10th, Stamp (14-0, 6) was supposed to defend his title against the man he beat for the belt, Gregorio Lebron(13-3, 11), for whatever reason that bout was delayed and will now take place this coming Friday, leading Thai fans to get a second “world level” rematch in as many days.
The first bout between the two men came back in August and saw Stamp claim a majority decision over Lebron, a fighter from the Dominican republic, courtesy of two 10-8 rounds. The decision upset Lebron's team, who accused two of the judges of bias and lead to the WBA calling for a rematch, leaving us where we are now.
In their first bout both took turns to be the aggressor in what was a solid bout overall, and the perfect eliminator type bout. Although a vaunted puncher Lebron only really seemed to hurt Stamp once whilst Stamp scored two knockdowns, and came the closest to forcing the referee to stop the fight. For many who watched the fight though Stamp was spending too many rounds being negative, inactive and backing off rather than than making the most of his speed and skills.
Since their first bout neither man has fought, however they have both aged. For Stamp that will have seen the teenager mature and grow more into a man, and the time between the originally scheduled date and the actually bout will have given yet more time to mature. He's still a teenager but certainly a more mature man than he was in their first meeting. For Lebron he's aged and is now heading towards his 34th birthday, an old age for a man in the lower weights. Saying that however Lebron hasn't been in a lot of wars and has only tasted 53 rounds of professional experience, with 12 of them coming against Stamp in their first meeting, making him a very fresh 33 year old.
In their first fight it was Stamp who looked the more intelligent fighter, especially early on when he landed counter hooks, flashy combinations and showed good movement. He was however the man who was under-pressure and looked like a fighter unsure of himself a sign of his youth and inexperience. Lebron however looked like a powerful and aggressive man, looking to teach the youngster lesson with his power punches. We're expecting much of the same here, with Stamp looking to use Lebron's pressure against him whilst Lebron will again be looking to use his vaunted power to stop the youngster, and keep the judges out of the result rather than risk another decision loss.
For both men however this bout will be different to their first. Lebron will know the officiating away from home isn't as favourable as it is at home. He'll be more aggressive and look for the KO more than he did last time out, taking more risks and throwing more reckless and wild hayemakers. As for Stamp he'll likely have fewer lulls and be less negative. When he attacks he'll look to make a bigger statement and try to make his rounds clearer when he wins them. The Thai may also swing less widely when he attacks, having missed wildly with a number of left hands in the middle rounds.
Like their first bout we're expecting to see Lebron coming forward and Stamp countering. We however think that Stamp will manage to up the ante late and force a late stoppage on to the hard hitting Dominican who we know can be hurt by Stamp.
For those who missed the first one, we've included it below.
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.