When we get asked about our favourite fighter we often list the names that everyone will enjoy watching. Guys like Takashi Miura, Manny Pacquiao, Takashi Uchiyama, and Shinsuke Yamanaka are amongst the first names we come out with. Another is IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (26-6-0-1, 10) who has the old school mentality of fighting anyone to prove how good he is.
Takayama's record bares the scars of his attitude to boxing. If you fight the best often enough you will lose fights and that's what he's done to the likes of Eagle Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez and Nkosinathi Joyi. At the time of fighting those men 3 of them were regarded as the best fighter in the Minimumweight division.
It's the attitude of Takayama that has made us fans. He's shown a willingness to fight the best, he's called for unification fights repeatedly, he's chased the IBF title, that he now holds, around the globe and he seems intent on claiming the WBO belt to become the first Japanese fighter to have held all 4 world titles. It's a fresh attitude, it's brave and it's great. If more fighters had the same mentality we'd have a much better sport.
It's not just the mentality of Takayama out of the ring that is so good but also inside the ring. At his best he's a buzzsaw with movement, toughness, bravery and work rate. He may not have the power of Pacquiao but stylistically there are a lot of similarities with what made Pacquiao so popular.
On May 7th Takayama attempts to defend his IBF title for the second time as he battles challenger Shin Ono (17-5-2, 2) in what we view as a bit of a stay busy defence against his countryman and whilst that sounds harsh it's not supposed to be, we just think Takayama is in a league of 2 with South African Hekkie Budler as his only real rival.
Ono is a good fighter. He is a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion and he holds notable wins over both Yu Kimura and Xiong Zhao Zhong as well as an unbeaten record dating back to 2011.
In a perfect world Zhong wouldn't have lost his WBC world title to Oswoldo Novoa earlier this year. That would have left a much anticipated unification between Takayama and Zhong. Instead Takayama is fighting the man who last beat Zhong before the Chinese fighter became a world champion. It's not ideal but it does make a little bit of sense.
In regards to how the fight is expected to go. Ono is a decent enough fighter to make Takayama work to defend his title, but isn't good enough to really trouble him. The challenger lacks the traits needed to beat Takayama, the timing, skills, power and speed. Ono is good enough to be world ranked, with the IBF #10 ranking making a lot more sense than the WBO #6 ranking he also holds, but the southpaw has never been in with someone as complete as the champion who we expect will take a clear, though hard fought, decision to retain his title.
We're hoping that if things go as expected we'll see Takayama meet Budler later this year in an IBF/WBA unification bout in either Japan, South Africa or Monaco.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe Gym)
This coming Saturday may be all about "Mayday" and the latest chapter in the Floyd Mayweather Jr story as he takes on Marcos Maidana but for Filipino fans their attention may well be closer to home as one of their world champions, Johnriel Casimero (19-2, 11) defends his IBF Light Flyweight title.
The champion might not be on the same planet of popularity as Manny Pacquiao or even Nonito Donaire but he's a man who infamous through out the boxing world. Sadly Casimero's infamy is less down to him and more down to thuggish behaviour of select fan base in Argentina who hailed him him with chairs in one of the ugliest moments in recent boxing history following his victory over Luis Alberto Lazarte.
Since winning the title, in that aforementioned bout in Argentina, Casimero has been over-looked. He has defended his belt 3 times against good competition defeating Pedro Guevara-in Guevara's native Mexico, Luis Alberto Rios-in Rios's home of Panama and Felipe Salguero-in the Philippines. He will now be looking to add the name of Mauricio Fuentes (16-2, 10) to his record as Fuentes becomes his 4th title challenger.
Fuentes, not to be confused with Mexico's very talented Moises Fuentes, is a little known Colombian fighter who lost 2 of his first 5 fights before running off a pretty looking 13 straight wins. Those wins have allowed him to enter the IBF top 15 despite a real lack of quality and ignoring the fact he has now been inactive for over a year.
Whilst "lack of quality" is a subjective term Fuentes has never beaten a fighter with a winning record, he has never beaten a name opponent, he has never beaten an opponent with any recognisable ranking and has never even fought in a 10, never mind 12, round bout. In fact in 18 bouts the best win on Fuentes's record is likely his 2 wins over Colombian journeyman Alfonso De la Hoz. De La Hoz, currently 13-50-6 (6), is the go to Colombian journeyman who has been in with every emerging fighter the country has had in the lower division over the last decade. The fact Fuentes has beat De La Hoz twice tells us little in all honesty, and that's really his best opponent.
Sadly actual footage of Fuentes is incredibly difficult to come by. Looking at what he's done in his career however it's difficult to see him being any sort of a threat Casimero who is one of the gems of Filipino boxing.
Aged just 24 Casimero has really done a lot more than many fighters older than him. He has already fought on the road in 5 separate countries, he has won a world title on the road and he has shown all the skills that he needs to show for a solid reign. He may not be a super talent, like WBC Light Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue, but he is a genuine talent. He can box, he can move and he can connect with respectable power. It's that power which has seen him stopping world class opponents such as Cesar Canchila, Lazarte and Salguero, and he is getting naturally stronger as he matures to his physical prime.
Whilst Casimero is probably the weakest of the three current world champions at 108lbs, he is still very good and he should have way more than enough to beat Fuentes who is so unproven it's a genuine mystery as to how the IBF can even rank him.
In honesty if Casimero loses here it goes down as the biggest upset of the year by a some margin.
(Image courtesy of boxrec.com)
Our favourite division right now is the 112lb Flyweight division. It's a division that has absolutely everything one could wish for in a division. Top fighters, skilled boxers, power punchers, crude sluggers, depth, notable names and most importantly big match ups which seem to be coming one after another.
The next great bout at 112lbs sees WBO and WBA "super" champion Juan Francisco Estrada (25-2, 18) defending his titles against the under-rated Filipino challenger Richie Mepranum (27-3-1, 6).
The challenger, who enters this bout as the clear under-dog is no stranger to being the over-looked fighter in a bout. He was written off when he moved up a class and faced his first former world title challenger Denkaosan Kaovichit in 2007 and gave the Thai a very tough contest, he was written off when he faced Rocky Fuentes and managed to defeat his Filipino countryman and most notably he was given no chance when he travelled to Mexico and took on and beat a previously unbeaten Hernan "Tyson" Marquez.
Although Mepranum has lost two, somewhat recent contests, both were at the top level and included a decision loss to Marquez and a stoppage loss to Julio Cesar Miranda, he has certainly proven he belongs in and around the world level.
At his best the Filipino is a tricky fighter who comes to fight and although he lacks power he makes up for it in volume and out put. His jab is sharp and quick, he follows up his connects with combinations and is tricky to pin down with intelligent movement. He can have his shots bounce off an opponent but he's slippery enough to make opponents look silly as he tags them then moves.
In Estrada we have a man who seemed to come out of no where back in November 2012 when he traded blows with sensational Nicaraguan Roman Gonalez. Although Estrada lost that night he has been on a tremendous rise ever since and has beaten both Brian Viloria, to win the titles, and Milan Melindo to defend them.
Big, strong, tough, heavy handed and with the ability to either fight or box Estrada looks likely to be a handful for anyone at 112lbs and further down the line at 115lbs if not as far as 118lbs. At just 24 years old Estrada is a boxing baby though fights like a season veteran and looks almost certain to become one of the next Mexican stars, at least in the lower weights.
With a glowing reputation Estrada really does seem like a huge favourite to successfully defend his belts against Mepranum in a fight that, if he's on form, he really can win any way he wishes. If an on form Estrada wants to box the odds are he'll do enough to take a decision, if he'd rather drag the Filipino into a war there would only be one man winning that.
Although Estrada is clearly the favourite we do expect him to be given a genuine test here. Mepranum is skilled enough and experienced enough to give most Flyweights fits and although he perhaps lacks the firepower to be a champion he is almost certainly going to be a top contender for the next few years.
We'd expect Mepranum to make Estrada look bad times but we can't see the Mexican losing to the Filipino, especially not here as fights in Puerto Penasco, the birth place of Estrada. He may not manage to take the belt but he will certainly not just roll over and take a loss without putting up a fight first.
We'd love to see the winner of this bout face the winner of the up coming contest between Akira Yaegashi and Roman Gonzalez. That would be a bout that would really give order to the division and clearly define the #1 and #2 at Flyweight. Thankfully with all of the top fighters showing a willingness to face other we wouldn't be shocked to see a division super either at the end of this year or the start of next year.
Last weekend saw the 49 year old Bernard Hopkins foll back the clock as he managed to over-come the significantly younger Beibut Shumenov and unify the IBF and WBA "super" titles at Light Heavyweight. Less than a week later another fighter over the age of 40's looks prove that age is just a number as Panama's controversial 41 year old Guillermo Jones (39-3-2, 31) returns to Russia his second straight fight.
In his last bout Jones controversially defeated Russian hard man Denis Lebedev (25-2, 19) to supposedly unify the WBA regular and WBA "in recess" titles. Things however didn't quite end up like that as the win was later ignored by the WBA following irregularities with Jones's drug test. This saw Lebedev reinstated as the WBA regular champion and now, 11 months later, we get a rematch as the men go to war again.
The first fight, last May, was genuinely amazing. Both men had to give and take in a back-and-forth way that saw Lebedev effectively punching himself out whilst landing massive bombs on Lebedev who appeared to be a division bigger than the Russian. Eventually a combination of exhaustion and Jones's punches took their toll and a badly swollen, bloodied and battered looking Lebedev was stopped.
The bout saw Lebedev praised for his insane amount of heart, it saw Jones, prior to the drug tests, praised for his skills despite being 40 years old, it saw both men praised for the action and excitement whilst the referee, doctor and Lebedev's corner were all criticised for putting the Russian's health at risk. The overall feeling was that Lebedev would never be the same, Jones was capable of unifying the division and we'd had an absolute classic.
Unfortunately all the praise of Jones was questioned when his drug test came back as dirty with many suggesting his energy and immense size advantage had been down to drugs. Whether Jones's performance was, or wasn't, due to performance enhancing substances is likely to be debated many times in the future one thing that won't be debated is just how much we're looking forward to the rematch.
Of course 11 months is a long time. For Jones it was 11 months of ageing, 11 months of getting naturally older and 11 months of collecting rust. Sometimes a break from the ring can do a fighter the world of good but Jones has now fought just 11 rounds in well over 2 years and just 17 rounds in 3 years and just 28 rounds in 5 and a half years.
Whilst the lay off for Jones was about ageing we'd presume that the 11 month lay off for Lebedev was more about recovery. His face was a genuine swollen mess at the end of the last bout and he really needed time to recover before even thinking about returning to boxing. His right eye was a swollen, disgusting, discoloured mess, whilst the left side of his face was cut both above and below the eye. The break from the ring wasn't so much desired as needed.
In their first fight Lebedev threw everything at Jones, including the kitchen sink, but never managed to dent the Panamanian who proved his toughness was first class. Genuinely the chin on Jones had to be made out of titanium. He took huge shots and never took a step backwards. Unfortunately for Lebedev he wasn't the only one with heavy artillery and Jones landed straights and uppercuts almost at will as he deformed Lebedev's face. Although Lebedev will never be described as a "pretty boy" he ended looking a bit like a gargoyle.
Unfortunately for Lebedev his return to the ring leaves us with a lot of questions. Firstly will he be the tough, powerful, gutsy fighter he once was or will the "loss" to Jones last year have taken too much out of him? Will his face swell up like it did last year? Will it swell up even easier than it did last year? What has the 11 months really done for Lebedev's health? And most importantly does he believe he can beat Jones?
For Jones there is also questions. Was he cheating? If so is he going to be able to replicate his performance from last year with out the substance he is reported to have taken? Is father time going to be too much for Jones at last? Did Lebedev manage to take anything out of Jones last time out?
From where we're sat there is no way Lebedev will be the fighter he was a year or two ago. It's a real shame but there is no way a fighter can take that much punishment and be the same man afterwards, he was effectively put through a human grinder. With that in mind we expect to see Lebedev against have his face swelling, cutting and seriously damaged. The shots of Jones might not be concussive but they are heavy and damaging and this will be, unfortunately, the key to this bout with the reach and length of Jones helping him land shots at will on the brave Russian.
We'd love to see Lebedev win, he's one of the most exciting fighters out there, but unfortunately we don't it happening, especially not after what happened last year. Lebedev is still going to be caught by the heavy straights, the venomous uppercuts, the clean hooks and the hard jabs that completely destroyed his face last year and will again this year.
When we talk about fighters we love to watch we tend to talk about fighters who have insane power and that ability to score an instant KO if, or rather when, they catch an opponent with a clean, full blooded power shot. This is one of the reasons that we love Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Takashi Uchiyama.
Another man who can render opponents unconscious on a whim is Japanese southpaw Shinsuke Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15). The reigning WBC Bantamweight champion might "only" have a 68% KO record but he is a fearsome puncher and he knows it. The stats, suggesting he stops less than 7 in every 10 opponents, don't take into account the fact he has gone the distance just once in his last 15 contests. This is a man whose power, or rather the ability to use it, wasn't natural but was something he learned to deliver and has managed to really deliver.
This coming Wednesday sees Yamanaka returning to the ring in an attempt to score his 5th straight stoppage and his 6th successive world title defence as he takes on the popular and fun to watch Stephane Jamoye (25-4, 15) of Belgium. Interestingly Jamoye has faced other reigning and former world champions. The two current world champions he has faced are WBO Bantamweight champion Tomoki Kameda and WBC Super Bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz, both men that Yamanaka has suggest he'd like to fight.
In his bouts against Kameda and Santa Cruz we saw Jamoye come up short. Against Kameda is a narrow and controversial defeat to then Mexican based Japanese fighter, against Santa Cruz however Jamoye was stopped in 6 following a vicious body shot. For Yamanaka a win isn't what he wants, what he wants is a better win than either Santa Cruz or Kamda managed against the Belgian.
Those two losses for Jamoye both came more than 3 years ago but will serve as a marker for Yamanaka who is hell bent on prove that he is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters out there right now.
Yamanaka is one of the jewels in Japanese boxing. He combines not only thunderous power, from his left hand, but an understanding of the ring, an ability to go to war, lethal finishing instincts, under-rated speed and a genuine calmness to work. If he wants to box he can do it, if he wants to brawl he'll do that, if he wants to patiently wait for his opportunity he can do that. He's amazingly versatile in the ring though knows that he need only connect once with his straight left hand to have an opponent completely void of their senses.
The one complaint with Yamanaka is that he can be a bit one handed. His right hand is rarely used as well as it should be and instead of using his hooks and jabs to set up his work he tends to depend on his footwork and cleaver ability to control the distance whilst his left hand is cocked ready to be uncoiled. If you enjoy the mastery behind Guillermo Ringondeaux or Floyd Mayweather Jr then Yamanaka should be your type of guy when he's deciding to box. When he's looking to fight however he's a whole different animal, just ask Ryosuke Iwasa who went toe-to-toe with Yamanaka in a thriller before finally being stopped in a Japanese title fight.
We're expecting to see Yamanaka the fighter when he gets in the ring with Jamoye. Not only do we expect to see Yamanaka turn fighter in an attempt to beat Kameda and Santa Cruz but also because of Jamoye's style. The Belgian is an in your face pressure fighter with a love of a good old fashioned tear up.
Jamoye can be out boxed, he was recently by Karim Guerfi, but he loves a tear up and if an opponent doesn't decide to pot shot him they are usually in for a hard fight. This was seen in Jamoye's bouts with Lee Haskins and Jamie McDonnell, both of which were thrilling contests from start to end. We expect Yamanaka to be willing to have a tear up here and we expecting him to look for the right hook that he's been spending time practising in the US and of course his destructive straight left hand.
With Santa Cruz taking 6 rounds we think Yamanaka will be looking for a finish in round 4. He may not get it but we can't see this one going much further. Our prediction is Yamanaka TKO5 with Jamoye just making it out of the 4th to be met by an almost psychotic Yamanaka in the 5th who will march out with nasty intentions and make sure he punishes the Belgian.
After the fight we almost certain that Yamanaka will mention either the US or Leo Santa Cruz. We know that's the fight he wants though we do expect him to have to wait with Santa Cruz likely to face Carl Frampton first some time this year. That would, in theory, open the door for Yamanaka to fight on a US show to raise his profile there before fighting Santa Cruz in early 2015.
-This bout is one of 2 world title on the same show, the other will feature Hozumi Hasegawa fighting Kiko Martinez in an IBF Super Bantamweight title fight.
(Image courtesy of Boxmob)
When we talk about modern day Japanese greats few really rival the legendary Hozumi Hasegawa (33-4, 15) a former WBC Bantamweight and Featherweight champion. This coming Wednesday sees Hasegawa, named the "Ace of Japan", trying to become just the second ever 3-weight world champion from Japan as he moves down to the Super Bantamweight division and challenger Spain's Kiko Martinez (30-4, 22), the current IBF champion.
For many fans, especially those who have seen Hasegawa's loss to Fernando Montiel and Jhonny Gonzalez, this is a suicide mission for the Japanese fighter. Martinez is vicious, hard hitting aggressive and the sort of opponent that no one really wants to fight, especially not if your durability is questioned like Hasegawa's is.
Martinez, known as La Sensación, is the sort of fighter who loves a small ring and loves feeling the like the top dog in in a fight. He's all about pressure, determined aggression, heavy hands and has no fear of travelling to get the bigger fights. This has been shown in his numerous fights outside of his native Spain, included his title winning effort against Jhonatan Romero.
At his best Martinez is truly a beast. Unfortunately for him he's an awful one dimensional beast. He has one mentality and that is to be the boss. He has no real counter boxing ability, doesn't really know how to fight on the back foot and can, as Carl Frampton showed, be out boxed and walk into shots with his basic flaws there to take advantage of. Unfortunately for Martinez's opponents he's basic but he's strong, durable, mentally tough and very destructive. Trying to out boxing him can look easy but it's mentally and physically draining and soon or later the pressure tends to take it's toll.
Whilst fans might be thinking this is a bout Hasegawa simply cannot win, the Japanese fighter is confident he can win, he's been a long and intense training camp, he's been sparring hard, spending time in camp with Shinsuke Yamanaka and doing all he can to prepare for the challenge of Martinez. It's been like Hasegawa knows this is his last chance to become a world champion again and this is his only chance toe become a 3-weight world champion. At 33 years old this really could actually be his final bout, not just his final world title bout.
As we all know Hasegawa made his name as an outstanding Bantamweight and held the WBC title at 118lbs between 2005 and 2010. He began the reign by beating Veeraphol Sahaprom who had himself beaten the insanely popular Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and it was hoped that Hasegawa would be the next "Joe", the next mega star of Japanese boxing. Unfortunately that failed to happen but he has still been a star and has still been in some great fights to watch as he's combined free flowing offence, fantastic speed, great combinations and very under-rated power. It's that power and speed that will always make Hasegawa dangerous and although he was viewed by many in the west as a "feather fisted" fighter he is still the only man to stop the teak tough Vusi Malinga, we he did inside a round!
Hasegawa in his pomp was sensational and a genuine joy to watch. Unfortunately for him he has slowed and his foot movement isn't what it once was. Fortunately for fans this has made his more aggressive, more willing to set his feet and happier to exchange. It's a dangerous tactic against a fighter with heavy hands like Kiko Martinez but will certainly lead to some fan friendly action, for as long as it lasts.
We're expecting Martinez to start fast and try to rough up Hasegawa. Within a round we expect to know whether or not Hasegawa can take the power of Martinez or whether the bout is going to finish earlier. We'd be shocked didn't start off aggressively though with Hasegawa's more refined boxing skills the challenger could very easily connect a bomb on to the chin of Martinez.
Going in many are under-rating Hasegawa's power though he could very easily land a counter to send Martinez to the canvas. For us that's Hasegawa's big chance because he won't survive the ferocious onslaught of the champion and instead will need to fight fire with fire.
Sadly for Hasegawa we're leaning towards Martinez to win with a mid-round stoppage, though we'd be shocked if this was anything less than explosive and exciting for as long as it lasts.
(Image courtesy of boxmob)
Not many people are described as "living legends" whilst still participating in their chosen field but for the ageless Bernard Hopkins (54-6-2-2, 32) that is an apt description. The current IBF Light Heavyweight champion is truly one of boxing's legendary fighters and whether you like him or not you simply need to respect him for being able to compete at the elite level in his and late 40's.
Now aged 49 Hopkins is battling father time just as much as opponents and just like like his opponents he seems to find a way to halt the assault of father time like no other. He's fitter than our team and we're all relative young "whippers nappers" compared to Hopkins, in fact we're barely his age when you combine us.
This weekend however Hopkins faces his most determined opponent in a long time as he battles Kazakh Beibut Shumenov (14-1, 9), a man who is attempting to unify his own WBA "super" title with the IBF belt of Hopkins and prove that he is the strongest fighter at 175lbs.
For many their entire viewing history of Shumenov was his victory last time out against the horribly over-matched Tamas Kovacs. Kovacs went in to that bout unbeaten in 23 though simply couldn't cope with the strength of Shumenov who hurt almost every time he landed until finally finishing the show in the 3rd round. From watching that fight alone Shumenov looked sensational though it was a clear showcase event for him to look having just signed with Golden Boy Promotions. That was his first fight with Golden Boy and it seemed clear that the intention, even then, was to pit him with Hopkins down the line.
Before being able to pit Shumenov with Hopkins they had to "legitimise him" for the US audience and the blow out over Kovacs did just that. It made Shumenov look a killer.
Unfortunately for Shumenov he's not a killer. That's not to say that he's not talented because he is very good, very strong and powerful with both hands however he is awfully basic and the victory over Kovacs allowed him to hide his flaws by simply using his strengths. Kovacs was unable to make Shumenov pay for technical limitations, his lack of speed, his somewhat basic foot work and his less than great engine. These were flaws shown in both of Shumenov's bout with Gabriel Campillo's and whilst he "won" one of those, very questionably, they are flaws we still think he has to this very day.
For Hopkins, one of the most technically sound fighters on the planet, it's the flaws of Shumenov that will come in to play. Hopkins is smart, accurate and very technically accomplished. He may now be lacking speed but he has fantastic timing, spots weaknesses in a heartbeat and most worrying for Shumenov he can control opponents both mentally and physically. With a fighter who has obvious flaws Hopkins tends to have a field day and we'd not be shocked if he landed his counter right straight time and time again on Shumenov.
On paper we all have to favour Hopkins his skill level, like his nick name "The Alien", is out of this world. At 49 though and against a genuinely strong, determined fighter with genuine power and desire to be the best this isn't a given. Hopkins's fight with father time could take it's toll at any point, Shumenov's natural strength may take it's toll and although Hopkins is wonderfully gifted and defensively very cute he has been taking more risks in recent bouts with his contest against Karo Murat last year being full of Hopkins aggression which is unusual.
If Hopkins takes unnecessary risks against Shumenov here he may be forced to pay for it with Shumenov's thudding power. Shumenov isn't like fellow Light Heavyweight champions Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, who both have lights out power when they connect, but he is heavy handed and when he connects fighters do feel it. That's the sort of power that can certainly take it's toll on a 49 year old body, even one taken care of like that of Hopkins.
Although Hopkins is rightfully the favourite we do think the American could be given a few troubles at times from Shumenov. The big question as for Shumenov's chances are whether or not he has too much respect for Hopkins or not. If he does then he's already lost but if he refuses to show Hopkins too much respect in the ring he stands half a chance the upset victory and a career defining victory for the man who was, for a long time, left out in the cold and avoided by most other top Light Heavyweights.
Can Shumenov retire Hopkins? Possibly, be he's going to need some serious help from father time
(Picture courtesy of shosports)
If Manny Pacquiao's rematch with unbeaten American Timothy Bradley is this weekend's main course for boxing fans then one of the best looking starters is the WBA Light Welterweight clash between unbeaten champion Khabib Allakhverdiev (19-0, 9) and unbeaten challenger Jessie Vargas (23-0, 9).
The fight, obviously lacking the high profile names of the Pacquiao/Bradley fight, is one we're expecting could be highly entertaining, arguably the most entertaining bout of the weekend, despite the fact neither man is blessed with amazing speed, skills or power. In fact both are pretty basic in what they do but their flaws, their issues and their relative lack of a stand out skill should mean they make for a special contest.
Of the two men it's Allakhverdiev who is the big betting favourite. The unbeaten champion from Russia is defending his belt for the second time and is on a run of decent results with victories over Nate Campbell, Ignacio Mendoza, Kaizer Mabuza, Joan Guzman and Souleymane M'baye. Of course they aren't murderers's row but they are all credible fighters and some of them, the Guzman one in particular, really were eye catching performances by a man looking to establish himself as one of the elite Light Welterweights.
When we talk about Allakhverdiev we talk about a man who seemingly can do it all at times. He can box, he fan fight and he can brawl. The flaw with him however is that he sometimes doesn't seem to know what he should be doing when. Against Guzman for example he had success in out working and out powering the Dominican though late in the bout tried to fight on the back foot with counters rather than taking it his opponents. Against M'baye he often looked disinterested, as if he knew he could stop the French veteran whenever and as a result looked poor for long spurts of the bout.
At his best Allakhverdiev is a genuine to 6 guy at 140lbs. He's a nightmare for pretty much anyone and versatile enough to give very good fighters a lot of trouble. At his worst he's mentally susceptible to turning off, giving rounds away and getting himself in to unnecessary trouble.
In unbeaten challenger Vargas we have a man who was once tipped by Floyd Mayweather Jr to be a star. That claim however seems to have been one of Floyd's most outlandish and looking from the outside in Vargas has nothing "star" like about him. He's bland, boring, lacks power and doesn't have anything that makes us want to watch him unless his opponent is an exciting type of fighter.
From his 23 fight career Vargas has had only a handful of mildly memorable bouts. One of those was his clash with Trenton Titsworth, which saw Titsworth stealing the show as he kissed Vargas and was deducted 2-points for "kissing" and for doing it "deliberately"-we kid you not, one was his fight with Josesito Lopez, which saw many feeling Lopez had been robbed due to Vargas's Mayweather links at the time, and finally his bout with Wale Omotoso, which saw both men going to war in what was a really good fight.
Vargas is a somewhat talented pure boxing with nice speed, nice heart and guts. Three very admirable traits. Unfortunately he lacks anything to really differentiate himself from 90% of other promising young fighters.
Against a fighter coming to fight with him, as Omotoso and Lopez did, Vargas can be dragged in to a dog fight. It's that that we're hoping to see here with Allakhverdiev hopefully coming with the intention of setting an aggressive pace, forcing Vargas to fire back and in the process give us 12 good, solid and entertaining rounds of action.
If the fight is fought as a boxing contest we think Vargas, a 2-1 underdog,could manage to do enough to spring the upset. If the bout is a battle though we can only see a successful defence from the Russian who will need to be at his best here in what is his toughest fight so far.
(Picture of Khabib courtesy of boxrec)
In boxing we only have a handful of really huge global names. One of those is Filipino icon Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao (55-5-2, 28).
The 35 year old Filipino legend returns to an American ring this weekend for his first US fight since being knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez back in 2012. Amazingly Pacquiao is without a win in the US since he managed to defeat Marquez, in their third meeting, all the way back in November 2011.
Pacquiao's return to America seems him trying to avenge his most controversial defeat, a much debated decision loss to unbeaten American Timothy "Desert Storm" Bradley (31-0-0-1, 12). The bout, for the WBO Welterweight title, is now almost 2 years in the making and is one of this years most eagerly anticipated contest so far.
When the men first met neither was at their best. Pacquiao, although a winner of the cards of ourselves and many independent observers, wasn't his usual self. His fire looked to be on the wane, the destructive freak of nature appeared to have been tamed by something or another and the power, speed, combinations and foot work weren't what we've come to expect of Pacquiao. He still seemed to win but it wasn't the Pacquiao of old and this was plainly obvious in the later rounds when he took his foot off the gas.
At his best Pacquiao is a perpetual punching machine throwing non-stop combinations, darting in and out, circling and trying to set up his monstrous straight left hand. He's always taken a few to land a few but on the whole his package of power, speed, toughness, and explosiveness has seen him inflict more hurt than opponents tend to inflict on him
As for Bradley seemed to be tamed. His skills were their but his footwork was lacking, due to genuine issues with his legs and feet, his indomitable will to win seemed to dissipate and whilst he showed off good body movement he looked like a pale imitation of himself. It was of course Bradley who got the decision but few felt he actually deserved and even fewer felt he had been fighting the real Pacquiao.
Bradley as his best is a sharp punching machine who lacks power but makes up for it in fantastic conditioning, a refusal to lose, a genuine intensity and the ability to do almost anything. He may not be a banger but he can box well off the front foot or back foot as well as brawl when he needs to.
Since their first meeting back in June 2012 both men have fought twice. For Pacquiao those bouts have seen him going 1-1 with the aforementioned loss to Marquez and a dominant victory over Brandon Rios, who was little more than a human punch bag. Bradley however has gone a perfect 2-0 with victories over Ruslan Provodnikov, in what was a pure war, and Juan Manuel Marquez in what was a somewhat tame and forgettable encounter.
For this many this bout is the most vital bout in the career of both men. For Bradley it's a chance to prove he is better than Pacquiao and that the decision 2 years ago, rightly or wrongly, did go to the better fighter. For Pacquiao this is a chance to avenge a man who took his Welterweight title and a man who inflicted his first loss in more than 7 years. A loss for Pacquiao could well be the end of his top level boxing career whilst a victory would see fans clamouring, once again, for Pacquiao vs Mayweather a bout that is still one of the most wanted fights amongst those in the boxing fraternity. For Bradley a victory puts him as a clear top 5 pound-for-pound fighter, he'll be the only man with 2 wins over Pacquiao and he'll be the clear man to beat at 147, aside from Mayweather.
So who are we going for?
We think both men will be determined to make a statement. For Bradley this could drag him in to the wrong type of fight. If Bradley can box with Pacquiao the American could well keep his unbeaten record but if he gets dragged into the mental battle of trying to win a war he's not going to come out on top, he simply doesn't have the power or variation in his work to over-come the more dynamic Pacquiao.
For Pacquiao to win he needs to throw away the "nice guy" mentality that has seemingly become too much a part of his fights in recent years. We need the angry, violent and destructive Pacquiao, the one that battered Miguel Cotto, bludgeoned Erik Morales, smashed Marco Antonio Barrera, dismantled Ricky Hatton and, going back a bit further, iced Chatchai Sasakul.
If Bradley, as he did against Marquez, boxes intelligently on the back foot he should be to give Pacquiao a lot of problems. The American would however need to find an extra gear or two to make Pacquiao look as bad as he made Marquez looked, with Marquez looking his age in that bout. If Bradley fights as he did against Provodnikov he hasn't a chance here and will be stopped.
We're thinking Pacquiao will get Bradley to fight his fight. The men will engage more than in their first fight, Pacquiao will look to make a point of showing his fire and anger and in the final rounds, when both are starting to feel the tempo of the bout, the spitefulness of Pacquiao will return.
Although we know we'll be in the minority we're going to be going with Pacquiao by late stoppage. The words of Bradley, who has commented on Pacquiao lacing the spitefulness he once had, will come back to bite him in the behind and we'll see snarl back in Pacquiao's boxing something that has been missed by many, including ourselves, and we'll see Pacquiao becoming a world champion once again.
One great thing about boxing in the East is that top prospects aren't held back. If you're good enough to swim with sharks you're allowed to swim and go for it. This has been seen time and time again with fighters like Kazuto Ioka who has proven himself capable of beating the best in the world.
The next Japanese fighter who is trying to prove that he's more advanced than his record shows is the 20 year old super stud Naoya Inoue (5-0, 4) who, in just his 6th professional contest, looks to set a Japanese national record for the fewest fights to win a world title. In turn that would see Inoue breaking the record of Ioka who took 7 fights to claim the WBC Minimumweight title.
When it comes to Inoue he was always earmarked for an early world title fight. Some reports suggested that Inoue would actually fight for a world title in his 3rd professional bout in an attempt to tie the long standing record of Saensak Muangsurin. Whilst that record was never really in the mind of Hideyuki Ohashi, the chairman of the Ohashi boxing Gym which promotes and trains Inoue, it showed how highly Inoue was regarded.
It wasn't just promotional hype that was behind Inoue from the off. He was a stand out amateur, a 7 time national champion, a fighter who was respected by the naturally bigger and more mature Ryota Murata, a fighter who beat up the world ranked Masayuki Kuroda in a public sparring test and more importantly he was someone with a natural look about him as a boxer. That once in a life time natural ability that made everything look so effortless.
The big test for Inoue however is this coming Sunday as he takes on Mexico's Adrian Hernandez (29-2-1, 18), the current WBC Light Flyweight champion and a man that many view as the top fighter in the 108lb division. This isn't Inoue trying to pick up an easy title to break the national record but is instead Inoue attempting to supplant himself as the top dog of his division and prove that he's as good as people say.
Before we look at Hernandez lets just look at what we've seen of Inoue so far. On his debut he showed a sharp jab, fantastic judgement of distance and exceptional body shots as he stopped the Filipino champion Crison Omayao in the 4th of a scheduled 8 rounds. It wasn't a punch perfect debut but it wasn't far off. In his second pro bout he showed perfect timing and a fast boxing brain as he landed a brutal counter left hook. His third bout let him show off his speed, accuracy and jab as he dismantled Yuki Sano pretty much one handed in an a really stunning showing.
Inoue's toughest bout came in his fourth contest as he took on the then reigning Japanese Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi and was forced to work hard for the victory over 10 rounds. It was the first fight where his power didn't make an opponent feel too uncomfortable but his physical strength certainly took it's toll on Taguchi who was looked tired in the later rounds. It was the brute strength of Inoue that was on show in his most recent bout as he just steam rolled Jerson Mancio in an OPBF title fight in 5 rounds. Although just a novice Inoue has already been in 30 pro rounds, he has experienced round 10 twice, he has done 100's of rounds of sparring with world level fighters, including stable mate and current world champion Akira Yaegashi, and has had the best preparation he could possibly have by facing a former Hernandez opponent Atsushi Kakutani.
With 33 fights under his belt there is no doubting Hernandez's experience. He not only has more than 6 times as many fights as Inoue but he also had a total of 179 rounds, almost 6 times as many as Inoue, and has been in 9 world title bouts. That's almost twice as many world title bouts as Inoue has had total bouts.
Like Inoue, Hernandez impressed early in his career and within 2 years of being a professional had beaten both Rodel Mayol and Gilberto Keb Baas, both of whom went on to win world titles and had previously fought in world title bouts.
Although he started well Hernandez did run into problem when he saw his unbeaten record get destroyed by Oscar Ibarra who stopped him in 6 rounds. Details of the actual bout are scarce to say the least but it may well have shown that Hernandez wasn't the must durable of fighters out there.
Following the loss to Ibarra we saw Hernandez rebuild really well stringing together 9 straight wins including a WBC title victory and a solitary defence before losing to Kompayaka Porpramook in an all out war in Thailand. The Porpramook bout was a thriller that saw both men trading shots for 10 rounds before Hernandez suffered to the combination of Porpramook's body attack and the heat. Whilst the Mexican would later avenge the loss it did suggest that Hernandez could be broken down with a determined and prolonged body assault.
Since the loss to Porpramook we've seen Hernandez has go 7-0 (4) with a victory in a rematch over Porpramook, to reclaim the world title, as well as 4 defences including the one over Kakutani late last year. Surprisingly in that bout, against Kakutani, Hernandez was dropped in the opening round though did come back very well to stop the Japanese fighter, though it did lead us to suggest Hernandez isn't as good as some may think he is.
When we look at Hernandez we don't look at a naturally talented fighter. Instead we look at a heavy handed, much more so than his record indicates, fighter who is relatively slow though very big for the weight and has a remarkable 6 foot wingspan, freakish for a fighter in the lower weights. Although he's rangy and tall Hernandez doesn't always fight like the tall fighter and can be dragged in to a battle, as he was against Porpramook in Thailand, fairly easily. Most interestingly however is the fact that he's also lacking the foot work one tends to expect with a tall fighter. He's actually remarkably flat footed for a world class fighter and against a speedy opponent he could probably be made to look rather stupid.
For Inoue the danger is getting tagged cleanly by Hernandez. If that happens the Japanese youngster could be in trouble however we think that Inoue will be smarter than that, he'll not think that Hernandez is a guy their to be steam rolled like Mancio was. Instead Inoue will try to feel out Hernandez, he'll get the jab going from the off, stay on his toes and try to let Hernandez tag his guard a few times. If he feels comfortable at handling Hernandez's power after taking a few on the arms and gloves he will likely move inside and engage in trench warfare with the Mexican. If he doesn't feel comfortable, for whatever reason, we expect to see the educated jab of Inoue's being the key with Inoue jabbing and moving, taking advantage of the slow foot work of Hernandez.
Of course Hernandez gas a great chance, he's experienced, he's big and he's powerful but we're going for an Inoue decision despite a few shaky moments for the highly touted "Monster".
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
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.