It's fair to say that the Flyweight division went from being one of the hottest divisions in the sport to one of the weakest, lacking in both star power and in talent. It's not totally devoid of both, but it did lose a lot of it's allure in 2017 as Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada and Johnriel Casimero all abandoned the division. With 3 title holders moving up from Flyweight it left the title scene in a real mess, with the WBO, IBF and WBC titles all becoming vacant.
Since those titles were scattered only one vacancy has been filled, that's the WBO title vacancy that has been claimed by Chinese star Zou Shiming, who claimed the title in November when he beat Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym. On March we see the WBC title vacancy being filled as unbeaten Thai Nawaphon Por Chokchai (36-0, 28) takes on talented Mexican Juan Hernandez Navarrete (33-2, 24) in a bout for the vacant title. For Nawaphon it'll be his first world title fight and a chance to announce himself on the world stage whilst Hernandez will be looking to claim a world title at the time of asking.
Of the two men it's the Mexican who is the more proven, and proven he is. Although best known in some circles for coming up short against Kazuto Ioka in a WBC Minimumweight title fight in 2011 it's fair to say that Hernandez has one of the most impressive resumes of any lower weight fighter right now. He holds wins over the likes of Denver Cuello, Saul Juarez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Jesus Silvestre and Omar Nino Romero. Although the one over Cuello was controversial the others have mostly been clear cut wins and in fact since the loss to Ioka he has won 15 in a row, including wins over Juarez, Garcia Hirales, Silvestrea and Romero.
Although not a elite level talent Hernandez is a genuine world class fighter who has scored notable wins from Minimumweight to Bantamweight. He is highly skilled, very tough and experienced fighter. He's not the quickest, or the biggest punching but he isn't slow by any means and his power is solid, with his last 5 wins being by stoppage in a combined 13 rounds! He's a man in hot form and full of confidence.
Unbeaten in 36 fights and aged 25 Nawaphon is one of the rising hopefuls of the Thai scene and is looking to become the third active member of the Nakornluang stable to become a world champion following in the footsteps of older brother Suriyan Sor Rungvisai and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai who both held the WBC Super Flyweight title. Nawaphon has been a professional for a little over 6 years but has been incredibly active racking up his record. Whilst it seems impressive to have had 36 fights in around 75 months he has been in there with some dire competition, with the best wins on his record being the likes of Donny Mabao, Mateo Handig and Heri Amol. He is, in fact, a man who has one of the sports most padded records.
Although his record is padded Nawaphon can fight. He's an aggressive pressure fighter who has been slicing through the lower tired competition like he's suppose to. He's stopped 12 of his last 13 and looked to make a statement in those bouts by not going beyond 6 rounds in any of them. He's not a man who has been messing around and much like Srisaket he gets in the ring to beat opponents up and move on to the next fight. He's also huge at the weight and could be a nightmare in terms of his size alone.
Although the level of competition may flatter Nawaphon, and may have given him a false sense of security, his team dug deep into their pockets to secure home advantage here. That is a key with the Thai in having a better read on the conditions in Thailand, there is however a slightly edge on that with Hernandez's team forcing the bout to be held in an inside venue where their man will be protected from the Thai elements. With that indoor venue taking away a lot of the home advantages a Thai has this could be a double tough contest for Nawaphon and we can't but think his competition has left him ill prepared for a fighter like Hernandez. With all that in mind we're predicting a stoppage win for Hernandez in the mid-to later rounds, of what will be an entertaining scrap, but one where the experience at a higher level of Hernandez will be the difference.
On March 2nd Japanese icon Shinsuke Yamanaka (26-0-2, 18) will return to the ring in search of his 12th world title defense, as he takes on in form Mexican challenger Carlos Carlson (22-1, 13). For Yamanaka a win would see him move to second in the list of Japanese fighters with successive title defense, just a defense behind the 13 defense record of Yoko Gushiken, whilst a win for Carlson would put him on the boxing map as a potential star of the Mexican fight scene.
Yamanaka has been the champion since November 2011, when he beat Christian Esquivel for the then vacant title. Since then he has become one of the stars of Japanese boxing and his 5 year reign at the top is the longest active reign of any male world champion. That reign hasn't just been long but it's also been a distinguished one with defenses against Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Anselmo Moreno, twice, and Liborio Solis.
Aged 34 Yamanaka is one of the elder statesmen of Japanese boxing, yet is regarded as one of the truly elite level fighters from the country. In the ring he can be a bit predictable, lining up his vicious left hands which are his most potent weapon. Although a very left hand dominant fighter Yamanaka has got under-rated skills and can rely on them when needed, as he did against Solis, and can also win a war, as he did in his second bout with Moreno.
Although still a top fighter, and probably the best Bantamweight on the planet, Yamanaka has shown flaws in recent bouts. He has been dropped in his last two bouts, was fortunate to over-come Moreno in their first meeting and was given real fits by Suriyan. Despite those flaws Yamanaka has always found a way to come out on top at world level, and has won his last 21 fights, with 16 stoppages in those contests.
Whilst Yamanaka is widely regarded as the best Bantamweight on the planet much less is known about Carlson, despite the fact he too is on a long winning run, winning his last 22 bouts following a loss on his debut. Notably that loss was fought well above the Bantamweight limit, and in fact many of Carlson's early career bouts were fought in and around the Super Bantamweight division. During his 22 fight winning run Carlos has fought in both the US and in Mexico.
Whilst Carlson has fought internationally the competition that he has faced has been dire. The most notable names he has faced have been the likes of Javier Gallo, Jose Cen Torres,Miguel Tamayao and Giovanni Caro. Worryingly he has also been dropped in some of his bouts so far, and by much lesser punchers than Yamanaka.
Sadly footage of Carlson is relatively limited, though he has appeared on TV before. One of those televised fights saw him take on Aaron Olivares. The bout showed that Carlos is offensively wild and although he can seemingly punch his defense is poor, his shots are wide, his feet cross and there was little in terms of world class ability on show. He has improved since that bout, but he's still a relatively open fighter and was dropped by Carlos Melo only a few fights back.
Whilst it's hard to read too much into Carlson's ability from the footage out there he has been down against limited opponents often enough to suggest he won't be able to withstand Yamanaka's power. With that in mind we're expecting to see a relatively easy stoppage win for the Japanese fighter who will likely return later in the year seeking to tie Gushiken's Japanese record, and maybe even break it before the end of 2017.
March is set to be an incredibly busy month with major bouts spread across the month. Despite the spread of bouts through the whole of Mach it's fair to say that the first week or so is genuinely hectic with a huge number of big bouts crushed into the first few days of March.
The first of those notable bouts will see WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (14-0, 6) defending his title against Japanese speedster Go Odaira (13-5-3, 1), in what will be Odaira's third world title shot in just over 2 years.
Coming in to the bout Knockout will be a clear favourite, for so many reasons. Not only is the unbeaten champion, and arguably the best fighter at 105lbs. His record may not be he deepest in the division but his recent wins over the likes of Carlos Buitrago, Alexis Diaz, Byron Rojas and Shin Ono have shown that he's a very talented fighter who is consistently developing his skills. He's not longer the powerful but crude fighter he once was and is a much more rounded boxer,
At his worst Knockout is a crude and slow fighter who looks predictable, as we saw in his first bout with Buitrago back in 2014. Since then he has improved significantly, and although he's still not lightening quick he is a much smoother fighter than he used to be. The smoothness has made other issues more visible and last time out, against Ono, he showed real pacing issues and looked exhausted in the later rounds. By then Ono was too far behind to capitalise but a better fighter could make Knockout pay in the future. Interestingly the bout with Ono saw Knockout's KO % fall to just 43% and was his 5th complete 12 rounder in his last 6, suggesting that he may not be the heavy handed puncher once looked like.
In the ring Odaira really is a speedy fighter, much like his mentor Susumu Hanagata. Odaira has lovely hand speed and movement, and is a a fighter who has had much of his success to date based on that speed. Unfortunately though he totally lacks power, physically he's also lacking and can be bullied around and has shown stamina issues of his own, and when his stamina is tested he seems to lack the durability to get through a storm. That has resulted in a 7th round TKO loss to Katsunari Takayama and a 5th round TKO loss to Wanheng Menayothin in his previous world title bouts
Although he has come up short in world title bouts in the past he has proven to be among the best on the Japanese domestic scene with a reign as the Japanese champion. As the domestic champion he recorded 3 defenses, beating the likes of Hiroya Yamamoto, Yuma Iwahashi and Yutaka Sowano. Sadly those defenses were against relatively poor opponents and came before the recent rise of fighters like Tatsuya Fukuhara, Ryuya Yamanaka, Tsubasa Koura, Reiya Konishi, Hiroto Kyoguchi and Masataka Taniguchi, who could have let us see how good Odaira really was.
Whilst Knockout will be the favourite based on his own ability Odaira will also have history working against him, with no Japanese fighter having ever won a world title bout in Thailand. In more than 20 contests Japanese fighters have been rebuked, with the “best” result being Hirofumi Mukai's technical draw with Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Saying that however Odaira has been planning ahead and this will be his third bout on the Land of Smiles and may well call on that experience with the Thai conditions here.
Although Odaira has got some experience of Thailand it's hard to see him having enough skills or experience to survive the 12 rounds with Knockout. Instead we're expecting to see another bout where Odaira starts well before falling apart in the middle rounds. Hopefully with Knockout shining enough to entice some of the new wave of Japanese fighters to challenge him, rather than having to reuse challengers like Odaira and Ono in the future
On December 6th 2013 the boxing world saw a notable card take place at the Kokugikan in Tokyo. The show saw Akira Yaegashi retain the WBC Flyweight title, with a decision win over Edgar Sosa, Naoya Inoue claim the OPBF Light Flyweight title with a 5th round TKO against Jerson Mancio, Ryosuke Iwasa claiming the OPBF Bantamweight title with a 5th round TKO against Hiroki Shiino and Ryota Murata claim his second win, stopping Dave Peterson in 8 rounds.
That card also featured the debut of 17 year old super prospect Takuma Inoue, who took a clear win over Tatsuya Fukuhara (now 18-4-6, 7). The loss for Fukuhara could have been a career ending humiliation, being out pointed by a debuting teen. Instead that bout was a catalyst for Fukuhara to turn his career career around and since that loss he has gone 6-0-3 (3), claimed the Japanese Minimumweight title and, arguably, been the most improved fighter in Japan.
That improvement for Fukuhara has seen him open the door for a major bout on February 26th as he takes on Mexican foe Moises Calleros (25-6-1, 14) in a bout for the interim WBO Minimumweight title. A win for Fukuhara would see him extend his post Inoue run to a 10 fights without a loss, and would see him opening the door to a potential domestic showdown with WBO “regular” champion Katsunari Takayama later in the year.
In the ring Fukuhara took time to find his feet and despite winning his first 4 bouts there was some fortune in his early results. He did however get things going and in 2009 he fought in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing a decision to Takuya Mitamura, who later went on to claim the Japanese title and challenge for a WBA interim title himself. Following that loss Fukuhara experimented with different weight classes, though suffered set backs at Light Flyweight and Flyweight. Those set backs saw Fukuhara head back to 105lbs and he got his career back under-way with an upset win over Koki Ono. A short winning run was ended by back-to-back losses to Yu Kimura and the aforementioned loss to Inoue.
At the time Fukuhara was 12-4-3 (3) and no one would have bet on the success he was to have. Less than a year later however had proven his ability by fighting to a draw in Thailand with Faglan Sakkreerin Jr. In late 2015, less than 2 years after the loss to Inoue, Fukuhara claimed the Japanese Minimumweight title by out pointing Hiroya Yamamoto and built on that win with defenses of the title against the unbeaten pairing of Takumi Sake and Genki Hanai as well as a technical draw against Shin Ono.
In the ring Fukuhara is a hard working southpaw with under-rated skills, a genuine toughness and a great engine. He might not scream world class in any department but with his continual improvement and very over-looked abilities he is a real talent with the potential to win genuine world titles in the years to come. He has proven he can box on the front foot or the back foot, he's accurate and the bout with Fahlan proved he has no fear of facing top quality opponents, even in their back yard.
Whilst Fukuhara is one of the most improved fighters over the last few years he is a relative unknown outside of his homeland. The same too can be said for Calleros, who debuted in 2008 and didn't face anyone of nay note until March 2012. That bout saw Calleros suffer a split decision to Julian Yedras, and resulted in Calleros' record falling to 17-4-1 (13). Since then he has faced fighters of more notoriety, losing a decision in 2013 to Francisco Rodriguez Jr, and scoring a win last year over Mario Rodriguez.
In the footage of Calleros he looks like a genuine trier, who comes to fight and will always look to walk down his opponents. His bout with Francisco Rodriguez Jr was a toe-to-toe war fought in a phone booth at times. Whilst it was fun to watch it did show that Calleros isn't the big puncher that his record suggests, and also suggested that his attacks were wide, wild and relatively predictable. Despite the flaws he never looked scared of taking one to land one and looked like the sort of fighter who would make for a FOTY contender with a warrior like Takayama. He did however look more polished in the bout against Mario Rodriguez, with an inexhaustible energy reserve and a style that saw him holding a high tempo through out and forcing Rodriguez on to the back foot through the later stages.
Although Calleros has an incredible engine and a fun style it does seem like he has has only fought as a Minimumweight once in the last 6 years and has never fought outside of Mexico, two things that could cost him here.
With Calleros' pressure style and Fukuhara's adaptability we're expecting this to be a sensational fight. Calleros will be on the Kumamoto man from the off, and how Fukuhara deals with that pressure will be the key to the fight. We suspect, with the crowd behind him, Fukuhara will do just enough to eek out a narrow decision here, and secure himself a showdown with Takayama in the summer. If however Calleros wins we'll be incredibly excited about a Takayama Vs Calleros bout.
Although it's unfair in some ways we are disappointed to learn that the bout is likely to only be available to fans in Kumamoto. With our expectations of the bout being a war it's a shame that only such a small number of fight fans will be able to watch the contest.
The Bantamweight division has been on of the sports most over-looked divisions in recent years, despite having had world champions all over the planet. The long reigning Shinsuke Yamanaka has proven to be the top guy in the division, with notable wins over a who's who of contenders like Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Anselmo Moreno and Liborio Solis, but Yamanaka aside the division seems to lack in star power. The other champions in the division, like Marlon Tapales and Lee Haskins, are very good fighters but they lack the fan base to create a huge buzz at home, despite both having been in some sensational fight. Despite being an over-looked division it does give us some interesting match ups, one of which is set to take place his coming Friday in Ohio.
The bout in question sees WBA “super” champion Rau'shee Warren (14-1-0-1, 4) defending his title against Kazakh puncher Zhanat Zhakiyanov (26-1, 18) in a speed Vs power bout.
Warren, a former 3-time US Olympian, won the title last year with a razor thin win over Juanm Carlos Payano and will be looking to make his first defense and solidify his standing as a world class fighter.
In the ring Warren really is a speed king with speed to burn in both his hands and his feet. He's not a puncher but he certainly hits harder than his record suggests, with knockdowns against a number of fighters that have seen the final bell with him. Whilst many of those knockdowns will be down to his speed, rather than power, he certainly can hurt fighters.
Not only is Warren fast but he's also a very highly skilled fighter, as any 3-time Olympian would be. He might not have shone at the Olympics, losing in his first bout at all 3 Games, but he did accomplish a lot of other things in the unpaid ranks, including winning a gold at the 2007 and a bronze at the 2005 World Amateur Championships. He isn't just skilled but has also began to show his adaptive ability and has transitioned from his amateur style to a professional style, though it did take a while for him to do that whilst saw him struggle in the early part of his career.
Zhakiyanov is a much more “agricultural” fighter. He's a big, strong, tough and powerful Bantamweight who has scored some brilliant knockouts during his career, with his 5th round KO against Karim Guerfi being a frightening shot. That KO came during a long run of stoppages from the Kazakh, who stopped 12 foes in row from May 2011 to May 2015. Despite that impressive stat there was little in terms of quality in there, with Guerfi being the best of the names.
That KO run of the Kazakh came to an end last year, when he claimed a split decision win over Yonfrez Parejo for the interim title in Monaco, and Zhakiyanov certainly didn't shine there, in fact he didn't shine at all in 2016 with his only other bout being a less than great win over Hector Roland Gusman, a bout in which he was dropped. It was a year in which Zhakiyanov's lack of speed and predictability saw him really exposed as little more than a limited puncher.
With his power Zhakiyanov always has a chance, if he catches a fighter clean he can put their lights out. Landing clean is however a big ask, especially against a fighter like Warren who is illusive, smart and fast. We suspect the speed and skills of Warren will be the difference here with Zhakiyanov being unable to land his home run punch, which he would need to connect with here to have any chance at all. With Zhakiyanov being as clumsy as he is we wouldn't be that shocked to see a hungry Warren make a statement and actually see off a tiring Zhakiyanov in the later rounds.
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.