The Middleweight division is in a period of relative flux with a number of champions who are likely to find themselves up against challengers who will fancy their chances over the coming year. The challengers, including the insanely exciting Hiroto Kyoguchi and the criminally under-rated Rey Loreto, are licking their lips however the champions are certainly looking out on the division on looking for easier contenders to face. That will be the case again this coming weekend when WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (46-0, 17) defends his title against Australian based Tanzanian born Omari Kimweri (16-3, 6).
The champion is closing in on the magic 50-0 but was fortunate earlier this year when he was taken to a very close decision by Melvin Jerusalem, who came into the bout as a hungry fight and showed his desire by pushing the Thai all the way. That bout is as close as we've seen Wanheng to picking up a loss, and it's the first time he has really shown signs of being an “old” fighter. In the past he has always looked like the type of fighter who can control the tempo of the bout with his educated pressure and combinations.
Although relatively unknown outside of Asia Wanheng is a genuine joy to watch at his best. He's an intelligent but aggressive fighter, who uses a tight guard to come forward and breaks his opponents down, with his pressure and under-rated power. His record may not show it, but Wanheng can punch, and has stopped 5of his last 9 whilst making 6 defenses of the world title and scoring notable wins over Go Odaira, Saul Juarez and Young Gil Bae. The win over Juarez, last year, showed how good Wanheng was, though did see him turn off late in the bout, but he's not looked the same since with the close win over Jerusalem and a couple of simple victories.
Born in Tanzania and now based in Australia Kimweri is a well travelled fighter and one who has actually faced some pretty interesting competition. In just his 4th bout he battled Angky Angkotta, in 2013 he lost a controversial decision to Shin Ono and last time out, more than a year ago, he took a controversial win over Randy Petalcorin. Aged 34 he's no spring chicken and he has been in some tough, and draining bouts, particularly the Petalcorin one.
Although not the most sensational of fighters Kimweri is a decent boxer-mover, he's game and has a real desire to win. He got off the floor numerous times against Petalcorin, a razor sharp puncher, and kept looking to win as he looked to always fight back. He was out matched but showed no quit and seemed to get some help from the judges to escape with a much debated win.
Although Wanheng didn't look his best last time out, it does look like this bout is one for him to shine in. Kimweri is similar, in some ways, to Go Odaira and will lack the power to get Wanheng's respect whilst the Thai will almost certainly walk through him, and eventually get a stoppage late in the bout.
Of all the world title fights taking place this coming weekend perhaps one of them stands out as a horrible mismatch, where the champion is so strongly expected to retain his title that fans may not be excited by the match in question. Saying that however those same fans are likely to be excited by the favourite, simply because he is such an exceptional talent, and it's hard not to be excited about the fighter, even if the bout is likely to be a mismatch.
That bout will see WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (12-0, 10) return to the ring to make the 5th defense of his title, and take on WBO #2 ranked contender Ricardo Rodriguez (16-3, 5), who is getting his first world title fight. Rodriguez will be widely viewed as a man being thrown to the slaughter, and typically that's a type of fight fans don't like, however when a fighter is a good as Inoue then fans are happy just to see someone like him fight.
The Japanese youngster was ear marked for success from way back in the amateurs, which he dominated domestically. That talent saw him being snapped up by Ohashi gym as a teenager and being guided quickly through the rankings. The rise saw Inoue claim a Japanese title in his 4th fight, an OPBF title in his 5th bout and a world title in his 6th bout. During that rise the showed tremendous speed, skill, accuracy and scary power. Those traits allowed him to jump from Light Flyweight to Super Flyweight, and destroy Omar Andres Narvaez to become a 2-weight champion in just 8 career bouts.
As a Super Flyweight champion Inoue has been impressive without really showing how good he actually is. He ended a year long break from the ring, due to hand injuries, by dismantling Warlito Parrenas in 2 rounds, then re-injured his hand a bout later in a 1-sided 12 round decision win over David Carmona. A 1-sided win over Petchbarngborn Kokietgym followed but again didn't show Inoue shine, in fact he showed some ring-immaturity in that bout. Most recently he stopped the teak tough Kohei Kono, in probably his best performance since winning the title.
Although Inoue hasn't looked his best recently, he's still been head and shoulders better than anyone he's faced and has shown all sorts. He can box, he can bang, he can brawl, he can move and he can counter. There are flaws, mostly defensive ones, with Inoue but he's so destructive and looks so physically tough that a fighter will have to not only exploit his flaws, and there are very few, but also avoid being tagged themselves.
Whilst Inoue is regarded as one of the best little men in the sport, with wins over 4 men who have held world titles, less is known about Rodriguez. The 27 year is an American based Mexican born fighter who debuted in 2011 and has mixed in decent company, but never really shown that he belongs in the ring with someone like Inoue. In fact it's fair to say that his most notable results have been two competitive losses to former Inoue foe David Carmona. His best wins have been over Jonathan Vidal, Miguel Cartagena and David Quijano and Carlos Narvaez, contender types but not champion level fighters.
Known as "Meserito" the 27 year old has spent his time fighting between the US and Mexico, having gone 9-0 in the US and 7-3 in Mexico. This will be his first bout outside of those two countries and he comes into it in good form, having won his last 4 bouts. From the footage he's an aggressive fighter with nice body shots and a good output, but nothing sensational, and his defense doesn't seem to be the tightest, with his foot work looking slow and his power being less than imposing. Arguably his most impressive attribute looks to be his hand speed and he does throw some lovely flash combinations.
Although he's faced some good opponents this is a huge step up in class for Rodriguez and it's clear that with the travel and the top class opponent that he's up against he's going to be the under-dog. He's a decent fighter, but this really is a whole different level to what he's been competing at. Hee's in with someone who will out manoeuvred him, out speed him and out punch him, and the flurries he has had success with will be countered here.
What we're expecting is for Inoue to invite the pressure, and look to land some vicious counter shots, looking for a finish in the middle rounds ahead of his US debut in September. Rodriguez will come to fight, and will have his moments, but simply won't be able to cope when Inoue goes through the gears. Rodriguez has never been stopped before, but it's hard to see him last 12 rounds here with the Monster.
With so many world title bouts this coming weekend it's easy to over look some of them, and perhaps that's the case with an incredibly good bout set to take place on Sunday at the Ariake Colosseum. That bout is the IBF Light Flyweight world title unification bout between “regular” champion Akira Yaegashi (25-5, 13) and “interim” champion Milan Melindo (35-2, 12). The two men are proven to be world class fighters and have styles that could make for either a tactical chessmatch or an exciting high skilled war.
Of the two fighters Yaegashi is the more accomplished. He's a 3-weight champion, having won titles at Minimumweight and Flyweight before claiming a Light Flyweight title at the end of 2015. Although his record is marked up he's a true world class fighter who has only lost in a single non-world title bout, way back in 2008 against Masatate Tsuji. Not only is he world class but he's also a hardcore fight fan's favourite having faced a who's who of the lower weights over the last decade, and nearly always putting on a show.
Although a talented boxer Yaegashi has gained a serious reputation as a fighter. He's been in so many wars that a career highlight set has to be made available after his retirement, and he's shown insane courage through his fights, regularly fighting with a swollen and disfigured face. Due to those wars he has become a fighter with an international following, and fans will all remember his bouts against the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Kazuto Ioka, Toshiyuki Igarashi, Roman Gonzalez, Javier Mendoza and Jose Martin Tecaupetla. Those bouts, and others, have been great wars and have helped Yaegashi to become more than just another Japanese world champion, they've made him one of the highlights of the lower weights.
The 29 year old Melindo is one of the lower weights technical fighters. He's known as “El Metodico” due to his boxing brain and methodical approach in the ring and has proven to be a genuine world class talent. During his career he has scored numerous notable wins, including victories over Muhammad Rachman,Carlos Tamara, Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Saul Juarez, Jose Martin Tecuapetla and most recently Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, to claim the interim title. He's lost twice to talented fighters, coming up short against Juan Francisco Estrada and Javier Mendoa, with that loss being a relatively controversial one.
As mentioned Melindo is methodical. He's not exciting, he's not a puncher, but he's technically very well schooled, very accurate and for skilled. His style lacks the energy of some of his fellow fighters, and it's fair to say he lacks world class speed or power, but in terms of pure skills, he is a genuine talent.
If Melindo can control the bout, and make it a boxing contest, he was a great chance of putting Yaegashi off his plan, and making the bout a less than thrilling affair, taking the crowd away and claiming the win. The reality however is that even at 34 Yaegashi is still quick and still comes to fight, and is still a top fighter. He'll look to make it a fight and we expect he'll manage to make the fight a war, and come out on top.
The fight will likely have a bit of everything, action, skills and drama, but we think Yaegashi will do more than enough to take home the win here.
Japanese world champions aren't rare in boxing, in fact the country has been one of the most successful countries in the history of the sport, however the country has struggled in the weights above 130lbs with only a handful of champions at Lightweight or higher. The highest weight a Japanese fighter has ever won a world title at is Middleweight, with Shinji Takehara being the only man to have done that. This coming Saturday we see 2012 Olympic gold medal winner Ryota Murata (12-0, 9) attempt to become the second Japanese fighter to claim a Middleweight crown, and the first Japanese fighter to claim both an Olympic gold and a professional world title, as he takes on Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (35-2, 21) for the WBA Middleweight title.
Of the two men it's N'dam who is the more well known, and with good reason given he's had a very long and pretty successful professional career. That career began in 2004 and has seen the Frence based Cameroonian win the WBA International Middleweight title as well as the WBO and WBA interim belts, winning the WBA interim crown twice. Not only has he won titles but he has beaten a strong of notable foes, such as Avtandil Khurtsidze, Giovanni Lorenzo, Max Bursak, Fulgencio Zuniga, Curtis Stevens and Alfonso Blanco.
Whilst N'dam has beaten some top foes he's unfortunately best known for his two losses, to Peter Quillin and David Lemieux, who both dropped him numerous times on route to decision wins. N'Dam prove in both of those bouts that he was a talented boxer-mover, with love skills a very dodgy chin but an amazing heart. In total N'Dam has been down more 10 times during his career, but he has has never been stopped. On the other other hand he as scored 21 stoppages, including the sickening KO of Blanco last December.
With 37 professional bouts to his name and 249 rounds under his belt N'Dam is a genuine veteran of the professional game. He's also an accomplished amateur reaching the 2004 Olympic quarter finals and reaching the the Rio games in 2016. He was also a competitor at the World Junior Championships in 2002 and an African Junior champion. It may seem obvious, but he certainly has a lot of miles on the clock and it's fair to ask how many more he can add before his body just gives up with it's fighting spirit, and he finally suffers a stoppage loss.
Murata really came to the attention of international boxing fans when he was still an amateur, having won Silver at the 2011 World Amateur Championships and a Gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. Following those success Murata turned professional with huge expectations on his shoulders and he quickly made an impact on the professional scene by stopping the then Oriental champion Akio Shibata on debut. Since then the hope in Japan was that Murata was going to be fast tracked to a title, with the help of American promotional giant Top Rank. Unfortunately Murata wasn't moved as quickly as hoped but he has picked up plenty of experience whilst fighting in Japan, Macau, China, Hong Kong and the US. Despite only having 12 bouts he already has 65 rounds and has gone 10 rounds 3 times already.
Despite being a former amateur standout Murata isn't a “skill” fighter. In the amateurs his success came from an amazing engine, an impressive toughness and incredible physical strength. He was an out and out pressure fighter as an amateur and was one of the most exciting fighters in the unpaid ranks. Since turning professional he has flirted with being a boxer but has seemingly realised he's a better puncher than a boxer. It seems that whilst he was a good amateur he was unsure of sort of a professional fighter he was until recently, and now he's stopped his last 5 foes.
Blessed with pure physical strength and toughness it does sometimes seem like it's going to take a special fighter to hurt Murata, He looks like he can be out boxed, with his relatively slow feet and less than quick hands, but he seems to always find a way to be in the right place and and can really land dynamite with his right hand. Notably his hands are quicker than they look, and when he wants to let combinations go he can, as Douglas Ataide found out in one of the most impressive stoppages of Murata's career so far. It's the speed and movement that looks the key to beating him, but keeping on the move for 12 rounds against his pressure is going to be very, very difficult.
Given that N'Dam has been down numerous times it's hard to imagine him staying upright here for 12 rounds. Murata simply hits too hard not to take down N'Dam. There is however no proof that Murata will be able to stop N'Dam and the French fighter will get on his toes, box, move and out land Murata in the vast number of rounds. The real key here will be how many knockdowns Murata can get, and just how much damage he can do to N'Dam. If he can drop N'Dam 5 or 6 times, or cause facial swelling and following up on that, Murata will likely end the weekend as the WBA Middleweight champion. If N'dam can avoid the power of Murata and can fiddle his way to a decision however the title likely ends up back in France.
Our prediction is that Murata's power will be too much for N'Dam and the Japanese fighter will drop the French enough times to take home the win, either scoring a close but clear decision or a very late stoppage of the French. N'Dam certainly has a chance, but we're going with Japanese star to create his own little slice of history here.
Currently the Light Flyweight division is one of the most over-looked with a really wonderful mix of talent from around Asia and America. There is no standout #1 fighter but there is a brilliant variety of styles and fighters in the division ranging from the lighting quick Kosei Tanaka to the warrior infused Akira Yaegashi, the calculating Pedro Guevara, the monstrously heavy handed Angel Acosta and the teak tough Jonathan Taconing.
This coming Saturday fans in Tokyo will see two talented fighters in the division battle for the WBC title, in what could be a a technically brilliant and thrilling battle.
In one corner will be WBC champion Ganigan Lopez (28-6, 17), a Mexican southpaw a talented fighter with a real gritty determination that comes with being a grizzled veteran. In the opposite corner will be Japanese youngster Ken Shiro (9-0, 5), a talented boxer-mover who is looking to continue his rise through the ranks.
Of the two Lopez is the more well known, and that's understandable given he's a 35 year old professional with 34 bouts under his belt and has been a professional since 2003. During his long career he has had plenty of ups and down. The lows have included losses to the likes of Juan Palacios, Adrian Hernandez, Jose Alfredo Zuniga, Denver Cuello and Pedro Guevara whilst the highs have included his last two wins, over Yu Kimura and Jonathan Taconing to win and defend the WBC title.
At his best Lopez is a brilliant boxer. He's not the quickest, most powerful, strongest or toughest but he is a fighter with an incredibly good boxing brain, who controls the range and tempo of the bout, boxes at his pace and dictates the fight with timing and accuracy. He can be hurt, he has been stopped, but it takes a special fighter to put him in any trouble and he's learned a lot from his narrow decision losses. Despite his boxing brain he is 35 years old and at Light Flyweight that really is ancient. He's look great in his last two bouts but a fighter at his age can get old over night, especially following a 10 month break from the ring due to issues securing a bout, with talks for a rematch against Guevara faltering.
Aged just 25 Ken Shiro is still a youngster, and looks even younger with a genuine baby face. Despite being a youngster he's an accomplished boxer who first made a name for himself in the amateur ranks before making his professional debut in August 2014. On debut he made a statement by defeating veteran Heri Amol and continued to make waves, beating Katsunori Nagamine in his third bout, claiming the WBC Youth Light Flyweight title in his 5th bout, the Japanese title a fight later and the OPBF title in his 8th professional bout. Whilst winning titles quickly appears to be the done thing in Japan not many are triple crown winners that quickly.
Although Ken Shiro is a talented boxer we have seen a bit of everything from him. We have seen him box, brawl, counter punch and adapt on the fly. His chameleon like ability has been really impressive at times, but has seen him being caught between styles, and it has also seen him being dropped, with Rolly Sumalpong dropping him in the Youth title fight. If he can stick to fighting with one style at a time the youngster could be a real talent, and although it sounds silly in telling him to stick to one style it would likely help him when it comes to actually being in the ring. One game plan that's consistent, with another as a back up, can be much better than trying to be a jack of all trades.
If Ken Shiro, and his team, come up with the right game plan here they have a really good change at over-coming Lopez and claiming a world title. It is however a huge ask for for the youngster against someone with so much experience against world class fighters. Ken Shiro has the ability, but we do wonder whether he has the power, or experience, that he might need here. Ken Shiro will almost certainly have his moments, but we think that Lopez will have more of them, and take a very competitive decision to narrowly retain his title, and confirm his standing as one of the top Light Flyweights on the plant.
If Ken Shiro can pull it off the future almost certainly leads to an all-Japanese unification bout in the very near future, especially given the fact other Japanese fighters hold titles at the weight. It would however by an upset for him to win here
The Flyweight division in recent times has been one of the best, with great bouts and amazing depth at the top. Sadly last year we saw the division being left in a mess with Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada and Johnriel Casimero all abandoning the division and leaving most of the titles vacant the division a disappointing mess. Thankfully the titles have slowly found new owners, with Zou Shiming claiming the WBO title, Donnie Nietes recently winning the IBF belt and Juan Hernandez Navarrete (34-2, 25) claiming the WBC title.
This coming Saturday we see Hernandez making his first defense of the title as he takes on Japanese sensation Daigo Higa (12-0, 12), a wrecking on the Japanese and Oriental scene. For champion it's a tough mandatory against one of the rising stars of Japanese boxing, whilst Higa gets a chance to prove himself on the world in what is a huge step up. For us, the fans, the bout is nothing short of a mouth watering clash between exciting world class boxer-puncher and one of the most exciting pressure fighters in the sport today.
Two men Hernandez is the more well known, by far, when it comes to international fans. The Mexican first began to make a mark years ago, and really became a contender in 2010, when he scored wins over Armando Vazquez, Danver Cuello and Moises Fuentes. That strong of wins lead to Hernandez getting a show at the then WBC Minimumweight champion Kazuto Ioka, with Ioka taking a well earned decision over Mexican.
Since losing to Ioka back in March 2012 we've seen Hernandez go on a brilliant 16-0 (12) run. Whilst the numbers look impressive by them selves it's the competition that has really made that run. He has scored wins over the likes of Saul Juarez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Jesus Silvestre, Omar Nino Romero and Nawaphon Por Chokchai during that run, with the win over Nawaphon netting the Mexican the WBC title. That run has seen Hernandez stop his last 6 foes in a combined 16 rounds and really look like a truly world class Flyweight.
Last time out, against Nawaphon, we saw Hernandez look sensational. He looked smooth boxing early on then turned up the heat in round 3 and hurt Nawaphon before hinting a finish which came following a real barrage of shots. He showed a bit of everything during the bout, speed, skills, power and killer instinct in what was a really good showing and one that came on enemy soil.
For those who haven't seen Higa, and his rise through the ranks, you've been missing out on one of the sports most exciting talents. He's an out and out pressure fighter with a style reminiscent of Roman Gonzalez, with the similarities resulting in Higa being dubbed the “Romagon of Okinawa”. He's doesn't go into the ring to win, but instead he goes there to beat people up, and do it in a fun, exciting manner, like his mentor Yoko Gushiken. Despite being such a destructive fighter he's only 21 and is a boxing baby with just 42 professional rounds.
Higa's early career went pretty under the radar though in 2015 he did get some notable attention as he travelled to Thailand and battered Kongfah CP Freshmart in 7 rounds for the WBC Youth Flyweight title. It was a thrilling bout and one that really did capture the attention of fans who hadn't previously seen Higa. The Japanese warrior defended the WBC Youth title twice, including a 10th round TKO win over gutsy Filipino Renren Tesorio, before claiming the OPBF title last year with a 4th round KO against Ardin Diale, in a brilliant showing.
Higa has steam rolled through his foes so far. He's put them all under pressure and they have all broken due to his combinations, power and physical strength. It's been great fun watching his rise an it's been one that has seen him improve, and improve, both as a fighter and as a young man. In fact watching him transition from a boy to a man has been brilliant to see. This is however a massive leap up in class and the first time he's taken on a true world class all rounder, and one who has developed into one of the leading Flyweights on the planet.
We'd love for Higa to win, we've cheer lead him since his 4th bout, against Samruai Mungwong in January 2015,but we think might be too much too soon. We certainly believe he has the power to hurt Hernandez, and probably also has the speed and combinations to break down anyone in the division, but we think that Hernandez will have too much know how too much movement and too much skill, at the moment, for Higa. It could end up looking like a man against a boy, sadly for Higa, though we suspect the youngster will learn so much from having time in the ring with Hernandez.
Whilst we really do want to see Higa win, and break out on the world stage, we think Hernandez will just be too good at the moment for the Japanese youngster.
At the end of 2016 Japanese youngster Kosei Tanaka (8-0, 5) became a 2-weight world champion, claiming the WBO Light Flyweight title in just his 8th bout, at the age of 21. The youngster returns to the ring this coming Saturday as he takes on monstrously hard hitting mandatory challenger Angel Acosta (16-0, 16), from Puerto Rico. A win for Tanaka would open doors, later in the year, to all Japanese world title unification bouts and would see him further enhance his already impressive standing in the sport. On the other hand however a win for Acosta would end the current barren run for Puerto Rico, which amazingly boasts no current world champions.
The Japanese youngster turned professional back in November 2013, aged 18, and had a lot of expectations on his shoulders, with his team talking about him as someone with the ability to race through the ranks. It turned out his team weren't all talk, and in just his 4th fight he took on the then 18-0 Ryuji Hara, stopping Hara for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Just a fight later he won the WBO Minimumweight title, setting a Japanese record and after one defense he jumped up in weight. After just 37 months as a professional Tanaka won his second world title, claiming the WBO Light Flyweight title.
In the ring Tanaka is a lighting quick fighter. His feet are incredibly quick and his hands are even quicker. It's those quick hands that allow him to throw some of the sweetest looking combinations in the sport and allows him to get his shots off before opponents can react. He can control the range with either his feet or hands and when he's on song he looks like a very special fighter.
At his best Tanaka is one of the best offensive fighters in the sport. Sadly what he lacks is a consistent defense and that was notable seen against both Hara and against Vic Saludar, in Tanaka's only world title defense. He was dropped, and bullied, by Saludar in what was the worst performance of his career so far. Although Tanaka was poor against Saludar he did seem to put that, at least partly, down to making weight and the move has seen him look much, much better with some added power as well as a more durable look.
Whilst the champion will be in his 4th world title bout the challenger will be in his first, and will be looking to continue his impressive stoppage run. That run began in November 2012, when the then then 22 year old Acosta stopped Alexis Diaz in 3 rounds, and has continued through to now, with the latest stoppage being a 10th round TKO over Japhet Uutoni in a world title eliminator.
Acosta has scored wins in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the USA. During those wins he has rarely gone more than 6 rounds and has faced mostly questionable opposition. Despite the poor competition Acosta has claimed the WBC FECARBOX and WBO Latino Light Flyweight titles. The most notable of his wins have been over Victor Ruiz, Juan Guzman, Luis Ceja and the aforementioned Uutoni.
Acosta is an out-and-out fighter with an aggressive mentality, despite that he can box on the back foot and has been seen landing some sensational counter shots, with his counter left hook looking particularly potent. He also seems to have nice speed, a wonderful variety of shots and they all seem to have nasty spite on them. It should be noted however that Acosta does look defensively open, and it looks like he makes a number of flaws, with his chin often in the air and he often leans straight backwards.
On paper this is a boxer against a puncher, but the reality is that both men are more than that. Tanaka is boxer-puncher, who can brawl when he needs to and has such incredible speed that his combinations are just a thing of beauty. Acosta is a puncher, but can also brawl, and has more than enough nous to his boxing to be able to box with good fighters. With that in mind this really is an intriguing match up, and one that could go either way. When put under pressure Tanaka looked comfortable, and Acosta will look to force himself on he Japanese fighter. Despite that we think Tanaka's speed will be the difference and he will counter, out manoeuvrer and out land Acosta, who will have real highlight moments, but not quite enough to wear down the Japanese youngster, who will do enough to take a very competitive decision.
In 2016 British fighter Khalid Yafai (21-0, 14) created history for the United Kingdom, as he became the first British fighter to claim a world title at Super Flyweight, and completed the set for the UK, which became the first country to have had world champions at every weight. This coming Saturday Yafai makes his first defense of the title, and takes on Japan's Suguru Muranaka (25-2-1, 8), who is looking to become the first Japanese fighter to claim a world title in Europe, something numerous fighters have attempted but failed to do.
Yafai won the title by beating a man Asian fight fans know well, Luis Concepcion. Against Concepcion we saw Yafai use a lot of movement to easily out box the slower, wilder Concepcion. It wasn't an amazing performance, or a hugely exciting one, but it was one that saw Yafai box brilliantly to a game plan and totally boss the fight. Given that Yafai had never fought at world level before it was a sterling performance, even if it did totally lack drama.
Other than the win over Concepcion we've seen a bit of everything from Yafai, albeit at the lower levels. He's blasted out the likes of Dixon Flores and Isaac Quaye, he's boxed in a dominant fashion against Everth Briceno and Cristofer Rosales, and shown a dirty arrogance at times.
At his best Yafai does look genuine world class, but the Concepcion win aside it's hard to tell much from his competition. Given the depth at Super Flyweight he might only be the 8th or 9th best fighter in the division, despite being the WBA champion. Few would favour Yafai against the likes of Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada, David Carmona, Jerwin Ancalas or even Johnriel Casimero, and when you consider his competition it really does lack those types of names.
In Suguru Muranaka fight fans in the west will get the chance to see one of the most fan friendly fighters on the planet, but also one who has had issues through the last few years of his career, despite being unbeaten in more than a decade. At his best Muranaka is an aggressively minded, pressure fighter warrior, willing to have a fighter and put on a show. At his worst he's a wild and open fighter, who lacks the power for his style and gets tagged far too much to be a world class fighter.
On paper Muranaka's best wins have been on the fringes of world level. He holds decision wins over Hiroyuki Hisataka and Takuya Kogawa, and has scored a stoppage over Masayuki Kuroda. All three of those men have fought in world title bouts, though all 3 did come up short at the top level. Notably two of those fringe world class wins have come at Flyweight, with Muranaka having out grown the division. It's the out growing of the Flyweight division which has been a major problem for Muranaka, who lost the Japanese title after failing to make weight, and the failed weight a second time at Flyweight before being forced to move up to Super Flyweight.
Since moving up Muranaka hasn't really impressed. He's not been able to force his will on opponents and hasn't looked as impressive as he used to. He's still an aggressive fighter with a pressure style, but he's certainly not looking as good as he once did.
Muranaka has started coming in to this fight that he's looking to put Yafai under pressure, make him work and break him down. Although it's a tactic similar to what Concepcion tried it seems to be Muranaka's plan A, B and C. If he can cut the distance and get to work on the inside, without being taken out by Yafai's dangerous body shots, then things could be interesting. Sadly for Muranaka to get close without taking heavy leather would be a huge surprise, and we can't help but think that either Yafai will box and move, keeping the bout at range and taking a wide decision, turn the tables, stand his ground and eventually take out Muranaka.
We would love to see the upset, and see a Japanese fighter finally win a world title in Europe, but it would be a huge shock if Muranaka could pull it off here, it would be one of the biggest boxing surprises of the year.
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.