It's fair to say the last few weeks have been both interesting and frustrating for those involved in the career of Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33). The Kazakh great saw a rematch with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez being cancelled after Alvarez pulled out, following a failed drugs test, and left Tom Loeffler scrambling around for a replacement, with only a few weeks to go. After several opponents were looked into the one who ended up taking the fight was Vanes Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21), who had been out of the ring for almost 2 years and had lost 2 of his previous 3. It was a less than great decision, but meant that Golovkin would stay active, having been out of the ring since last September.
At his best Golovkin was a Middleweight wrecking ball, combining skills, power and toughness. He was an aggressive but calculated pressure fighter who had a desire to prove he was the best and to unify the Middleweight division. In recent bouts however the Kazakh has began to look his age, and whilst still a top fighter he's not looked as much of a destructive force as he once was. Part of that is to do with his competition, which has picked up in quality, but part of it is also to do with his age which is starting to catch up with him.
Golovkin was a former amateur star before turning professional in 2006. He would claim the WBA “interim” title in 2010 and has grown from there, becoming a staple of the US boxing scene since beating Grzegorz Proksa in 2012. Although he does lack in terms of career defining wins he has pretty much cleaned out the division of contenders ever since, beating the likes of Gabriel Rosado, Matthew Macklin, Curtis Stevens, Daniel Geale, Marco Antonio Rubio, Martin Murray, David Lemieux and Daniel Jacobs. The one blotch on his record was a very controversial draw that lead many to question what Adalaide Byrd had been watching during the fight. Sadly the draw cost Golovkin a career defining win, and lead to the mess of the rematch, the rematch that would be cancelled due to Canelo's positive drug test.
Again at his very best Golovkin has everything but speed, though used good IQ, timing and footwork to hide that flaw. He would bring the pressure, and break people down. In his last 2 bouts he has been taken the distance, and in his bout before that, against Kell Brook, he looked slow and a little bit clumsy. We need to go back over 2 years for the last really impressive performance from Golovkin, his win over Lemieux, and it's worth questioning what he really has left at the top level. He's still a good fighter, but the likes of Billy Joe Saunders, Canelo, Ryota Murata and Sergiy Derevyanchenko all seem to be eyeing up the Kazakh, something that wasn't happening a couple of years ago.
Martirosyan was a solid amateur himself, representing the US at the 2004 Olympics before making his professional debut the following year. Despite his amateur pedigree he was matched softly, and moved very slowly through the professional ranks, despite looking like someone who would have loved to have been tested early on. The kid gloves in terms of his development was because of his age, he was only 18 when he turned professional, but the progress of his career really was frustratingly slow. His first real tests coming in 2008, when he was matched with the likes of Michi Munoz, Angel Hernandez and Michael Medina. Sadly rather than move onwards and upwards from those wins he was kept at that sort of level until 2010, when he took on former world champion Kassim Ouma. Ouma, who would also give Golovkin fits, was very unlucky not to defeat Martirosyan in a bout that could easily have gone his way.
In many ways Martirosyan's struggle with Ouma showed a lot, and perhaps explained why his team had been so protective of him. Despite the struggle he did continue on with his career, winning a WBC eliminator in 2011 before fighting to a technical draw in a final eliminator in 2012. By then Martirosyan had been a professional for 7 years and his career, which had promised a lot, had really failed to deliver. He would finally get a world title fight a year later, losing a split decision to Demetrius Andrade. Losses in 2 of his subsequent 5 fights, to Jermell Charlo and a rematch to Lara really act as set backs to Martirosyan's dreams and he's not fought since the loss to Lara in May 2016.
Although a solid boxer, with decent power, decent movement and decent skills Martirosyan hasn't proven those traits at Middleweight, having fought much of his career at Light Middleweight, he has been inactive, as mentioned, and has been down a number of times during his career. Going up against a strong, powerful Middleweight like Golovkin won't bode well for the challenger. Martirosyan might have the speed to be competitive early on, but we can't help but think that Golovkin's power will be too much, and he'll stop the challenger in the middle rounds to retain the WBA “super”, WBO and IBO Middleweight titles.
This coming Wednesday fans in Thailand will see WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (49-0, 17) return to the ring for his first fight of the year, as he battles mandatory challenger Leroy Estrada (16-2, 6) in Nakhon Ratchasima. For the unbeaten Thai the bout is a chance to go 50-0, and match the unbeaten run of American icon Floyd Mayweather Jr, and would also be Wanheng's 9th defense of the title. As for Estrada the bout is a chance for him to announce himself on the world stage and claim his first world title.
The 32 year old Thai has been the WBC champion since November 2014, whenhe stopped Oswaldo Novoa, and has gone on to defend the title against the likes of Jeffrey Galero, Go Odaira, Saul Juarez, Melvin Jerusalem and Tatsuya Fukuhara. In a number of those bouts, such as the ones against Juarez, Jerusalem and Fukuhara, we've seen Wanheng pushed all the way as younger fighters have given him issues with volume and speed. Although on paper he won all 3 of those bouts they were very competitive and showed a number of flaws with the Thai.
At his best Wanheng is a calculated pressure fighter. He uses a tight guard, comes forward well and throws accurate, solid combinations. He's not a big puncher, but he's a solid hitter who will land clean and switch between head and body well. He's at his best at mid to close to range but has a decent jab at distance. Unfortunately for him he's a relatively small Minimumweight and at 32 he's not got the energy to fight at a high tempo and move through all the gears any more, and he can be out worked.
The champion's tight defense has kept damage down through his career, but with 394 already under his belt from an 11 year career he's clearly taken some punishment. His chin hasn't shown any real cracks but as he gets older the accumulation of those rounds may take it's toll and it's clear he hasn't been up against any of the division's really big punchers, like Hiroto Kyoguchi or Vic Saludar.
The 23 year old challenger is known as "El Sensacional" and proved to be a sensation early in his career, debuting at just 16 years old and reeling off 7 straight wins to begin his career. Sadly for him his 6th victory, a majority decision over Mercedes Concepcion, lead to a rematch which saw Estrada being stopped in the 6th round. The bout saw Estrada being out manned by Concepcion who dropped him several times to gain revenge for his narrow loss. That set back saw Estrada take time away from the ring before returning and looking even better as he strung together 5 more wins. Sadly that winning run would come to an end in 2014 when he was out pointed by Carlos Ortega, who also holds a win over Gilberto Pedroza.
Despite the set backs Estrada has gritted his teeth and is currently riding a 4 fight winning run, including a big 2017 win over Saul Juarez in a world title eliminator. Sadly for Estrada that bout is his only bout in the last 18 months. In fact he has only fought 17 rounds, combined, in 2016 and 2017. That isn't the activity a fighter needs heading into a world title fight, in fact that's the sort of activity that will really harm a youngster like Estrada.
The footage of Estrada shows a pretty talented boxer move with nice hand speed and good counter punching. Sadly though that same footage makes him look rather light fisted, negative and in some ways made to order for a fighter like Wanheng. Despite being young and fresh faced Estrada doesn't have a high work rate, instead choosing to be selective with his punches rather than overwhelming. Against Wanheng we suspect Estrada walked down, and broken down with body shots, before simply being stopped in the mid to late rounds.
Estrada is a talented fighter but we can't see him over-coming the highly skilled champion here.
The current era of Japanese youngsters is brilliant, and there is no doubting that we are witnessing a golden age of Japanese boxing with so much young talent in the country. Among the most impressive of those fighters is WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (15-0, 15), who has a perfect KO record and is quickly proving himself as one of the most destructive fighters in the sport. This coming Sunday Higa will be returning to the ring as he hunts his third defense of the title, and takes on Nicaraguan challenger Cristofer Rosales (26-3, 17) in Kanagawa. Not only will it be Higa's 3rd defense, but another stoppage win will see him take the #1 spot on the Japanese all time record for most consecutive KO's. For Rosales it will be a chance to become a world champion, and follow in the footsteps of other great Nicaraguan's like Roman Gonzalez and Alexis Arguello.
Higa's rise has been one of the best in Japan. Unlike Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka, who were both amazing amateur's, Higa's rise has been somewhat unexpected but truly fantastic. Having made his debut in the summer of 2014 Higa was a bit an unknown until his 2015 win over Kongfah CP Freshmart in Thailand. Since then he has made statement, after statement, stopping Ardin Diale in 4 rounds for the OPBF Flyweight title, blasting out Juan Hernandez in 6 rounds for the WBC title and recently stopping Moises Fuentes inside a round.
In the ring Higa is a little monster. He's a busy, accurate, hard hitting pressure fighter who brings the pressure from the off, has an under-rated jab and throws beautifully vicious combinations and body shots. Offensively the champion is a machine, and looks similar in style to a prime Roman Gonzalez, with his pressure, footwork and destructive combinations. Defensively however he's a bit flawed. He can be caught, he be out manoeuvred and he has been caught once or twice early in a fight. He's not shown any issues with his chin, and does take few shots clean, but there is holes there that could encourage future opponents.
Aged 23 Rosales is already a young veteran, with this bout set to be his 30th in less than 5 years! That sounds impressive but only tells half of the story about the man from Managua. His first loss, in just his 3rd bout, came to Keyvin Lara, who challenged Kazuto Ioka in 2016 and put up a really good effort, his second loss was in a somewhat competitive contest to current WBA Super Flyweight champion Kal Yafai whilst his most recent loss was to Andrew Selby, in a much more competitive bout than the score cards suggest. As well as those losses Rosales has shown his ability with wins against the likes of Eliecer Quezada, Martin Tecuapetla and Mohammad Obbadi.
Rosales is an aggressive fighter, but not in the same out and out pressure style as Higa. Instead he's a bit more of a boxer-puncher, with very solid power, good boxing skills and the ability to fight at range of up close. He's a very tough and dangerous fighter, and the scare he gave Andrew Selby showed how good he really is. He may not have his name in the mix a top tier fighter, but that's more because of how over-looked he is rather than how good he is.
Rosales is a really dangerous and tough opponent. He's not going to b there to lose, to look for a way out or to come out second best. Instead he's travelling to win, and make the most of this voluntary title fight. It's a very risky move from Higa's team to face someone as dangerous as Rosales but it's clear that the champion wants tough opponents and wants to increase his profile by beating top fighters. Despite how good Rosales is, we thing Higa is something very special. Rosales won't travel to Japan to lose, but Higa will take the decision out of his hands, and will break him down with body shots to break through the resolve of Rosales, in similar fashion to Hiroto Kyoguchi's win against Carlos Buitrago late last year.
It'd be fair to say that 2017 was both the best, and the worst year for Ryota Murata (13-1, 10) as a professional boxer. In May he was robbed of the WBA Middleweight title, when the judges some how scored his first bout with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikan in favour of the French fighter, in one of the worst decisions of the year. In October however he avenged that loss by dominating N'Dam on route to a 7th round retirement of the Frenchman, to then claim the WBA Middleweight title.
This coming Sunday Murata looks to make his first defense of that title as he takes on Italian veteran Emanuele Felice Blandamura (27-2, 5), himself a former European and European Union champion.
Murata, for those unaware, is one of the most successful amateurs in Japanese boxing history. He won a Bronze at the 2011 World Amateur Championships, a Gold at the 2012 Olympics, 13 national titles and ran up an incredible 119-19 (89) record in the unpaid ranks. As a professional he has been on the fast track from the off, facing the then Oriental champion on his debut and never facing a fighter with a losing record as he raced into the world rankings. He hasn't always looked amazing, and his US debut against Gunnar Jackson was a very disappointing performance, but he's looked the boss in every one of his fights, including his loss.
In the ring Murata is a pretty basic fighter. He's not quick, he doesn't have amazing reactions and he's not a defensive master. But what he is is very tough,very strong, very powerful and very well schooled. His jab looks like it has the power of a straight right hand from most other fighters, he applies a lot of consistent, and educated, pressure, and uses very sharp straight punches to force fighters on to the back foot. Despite being quite a basic fighter we have seen Murata change gears at times, and when he really goes into top gear he looks sensational, sadly though we have only seen that in glimpses.
Although a pressure first and foremost Murata has brutal power, cuts off the ring surprisingly well and is a nightmare for most at 160lbs. He might not be truly elite level, but no one in the division will have an easy time with him.
Aged 38 Blandamura is a true veteran and made his debut almost 11 years ago. During that time he has fought in and around the fringes of European level, picking up notable wins over Manuel Ernesti, Marcos Nader, Matteo Signani and Alessandro Goddi whilst coming up short against world class fighters like Billy Joe Saunders and Michel Soro, both of whom stopped Blandamura in 8 rounds. Despite those stoppages Blandamura was competitive in both bouts, and showed the boxing skills and experience to give both real issues. Sadly though those skills weren't coupled with much in terms of power and despite having success he could never get the respect of either Saunders or Soro.
Blandamura has got really nice skills, skills that kept him competitive with Soro and Saunders, but at 38 his legs are slowing, his lack of power has always been an issue and so to has been his chin. Against Murata a fighter needs a chin, as mentioned Murata's jab is solid, and although Blandamura will have some moments where he can out box Murata he will always by dancing on ice. Eventually that ice will crack Murata will connect and the Italian's dream of becoming a world champion will end with his third stoppage loss.
On paper this looks a good first defense for Murata but the reality is that it's a show case defense for Murata who is planning to return in the summer to face former amateur rival Esquiva Falcao in the US. If things go to plan Murata will stop Blandamura in impressive fashion and get the bout with Falcao, as long as he doesn't over-look the Italian here.
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.