Currently the Super Bantamweight division is one of the most fractured in the sport, and as a result it's a bit of a frustrating mess to follow. Guillermo Rigondeaux, the WBA “super” champion looks set to jump to Super Featherweight for his next bout, WBO champion Jessie Magdaleno has yet to make his first defense, IBF champion Yukinori Oguni makes his first defense later this month, WBC champion Rey Vargas recently made his first defense and this weekend we see WBA “regular” champion Shun Kubo (12-0, 9) make his first defense.
Whilst the division is a mess, it's one which is thoroughly brilliant at the moment, with a nice mixture of veterans, Nonito Donaire and Rigondeaux, as well as fresh blood, like Kubo and Oguni, and almost every style. We have pure boxers, sluggers, bangers and hybrids making up the stacked top 20 in what, potentially, is the most interesting,yet frustrating, division in the sport right now.
Kubo's first defense, this coming Sunday, will see the Hyogo man defending his belt against mandatory challenger Daniel Roman (22-2-1, 8) in what is a really interesting looking match up, that pits two fighters with a lot of questions to answer, against each other on.
Aged 27 Kubo is one of a number of Japanese fighters who has moved through the ranks swiftly. As an amateur he was less than spectacular, running up a 30-18 record, but beat veteran Monico Laurente in his third bout and the world ranked Luis May in his 6th bout to announce himself as one to watch. An OPBF title win in 2015 opened doors for Kubo to progress his career and after just two defenses his team paid to bring tricky veteran Nehomar Cermeno over to Japan to defend the WBA crown. The bout with Cermeno was a real gut test for Kubo, but one that saw him out lasting the veteran, who retired citing injury at the start of round 10.
Against Cermeno we saw Kubo show off some world class skills, but almost come undone following a knockdown, go through a torrid spell and show some self doubt as Cermeno used his experience to come on strong. Now the question to answer for Kubo is how much did he learn and develop from that tough win? Is he going to come undone under pressure again or will the win have boosted his confidence?
Also aged 27 Roman is a fighter looking to make his mark on the sport and continue a 14 fight winning streak that began back in March 2014. During his current run has has scored a number of notable wins, including victories over Christopher Martin, Christian Esquivel and the unbeaten pairing of Marlon Olea and Adam Lopez. Whilst it's a nice record, and one that proves Roman is top contender, it lacks a major A class win and it's hard to know exactly how good he is, and we could see that being answered here.
From watching footage of Roman he's a technically well schooled fighter who has nice textbook boxing ability, and solid, but unspectacular speed. Where he lacks are power and he has been out boxed before by lesser fighters. It's also worth noting that whilst he's not “short” for the weight he is going to be giving away some significant size, with Kubo being a freakish Super Bantamweight, who will look to use his height and reach to neutralise the jab of Roman.
Roman is a very solid boxer, but the reality here is that he is stepping up massively here to face someone who has the home advantage and all the physical advantages. Roman is more experienced, and was a more accomplished amateur fighter, but it's hard to see what he has to beat Kubo. Unless he can land a bomb on Kubo we suspect the champion will record his first defense, and could well find himself becoming the target of domestic rivals like Yusaku Kuga and Hinata Maruta.
The Minimumweight division is one that is currently dominated by Asian fighters, with all 4 major world titles being held by Asian's. This coming Sunday won't see that changing, but could potentially see a new champion being crowned, as WBO Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7) defends his title against fellow Japanese fighter Ryuya Yamanaka (14-2, 4). For the champion this will be his first defense of the title whilst Yamanaka will be getting his first world title fight, as he looks to become the next world champion from the Shinsei gym.
The 28 year old Fukuhara was a fighter who showed some early promise, reaching the 2009 Rookie of the Year final, but then his career stumbled. He went from 5-0-2 (1) to 12-4-3 (3) and suffered losses to Yu Kimura and Takuma Inoue, who was making his debut. Since that poor run we have however seen Fukuhara turn his career around, with a 7-0-3 (4) run in his last 10. That run has seen him fight to a draw with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in Thailand, defeat Hiroya Yamamoto for the Japanese title, over-come Takumi Sakae and Genki Hanai in title defenses, get a technical draw against Shin Ono and beat Moises Calleros for the “interim” WBO world title.
The run of Fukuhara's has been genuinely impressive and has seen him show impressive mental strength. In the ring he's got a nice jab and solid work rate, but does lack power and he has a very weak looking left hand, which is an issue given he's a southpaw, and a pretty weak defense. When he throws the left hand he often leaves him open to counters, and can be seen to rely on his chin a bit too much during those moments. Despite there being a lot of flaws Fukuhara has proven to be a tough man to beat in recent years with his willingness to take one to land one being part of what makes him so hard to beat. It's also worth noting that he is a hero in Kumamoto, and the crowd will be behind him every time he fights there, where he has grown a notable local following.
Whilst the champion is pretty unknown in the west it's fair to say that Yamanaka is a total unknown outside of Japan, and in fairness is pretty unknown outside of Hyogo. He turned professional in 2012 and has regularly fought in Kobe on shows promoted by his gym Shinsei. He's ventured out a few times, but not too often. During his career he has suffered a couple of losses, with one of those being an early career stoppage to Kenta Shimizu and the other being a decision loss to Filipino journeyman Roque Lauro in 2014. Coming in to this bout however he is riding a 7 fight winning run, including wins over Takahiro Murai, Ronelle Ferreras and most notably Merlito Sabillo, a win that saw Yamanaka claim the OPBF title.
In the win over Sabillo we saw the ability of Yamanaka shine as he boxed and moved, using his speed and movement to make the former world champion look slow, clumsy and like a novice at times. It was this version of Yamanaka that showed the talent to become a world champion down the line, and earned him this shot, but there is a difference between fighting a shop worn, former champion like Sabillo, and a current champion like, Fukuhara.
Footage of the two suggests that Yamanaka is the better boxer. He's the more natural talent of the two. But we can't help but feel that that natural talent will be swamped by Fukuhara, who will simply wear down the challenger. We can certainly see Yamanaka boxing and moving to a decision victory, but we suspect the champion will retain with a late stoppage.
On August 26th boxing hits the mainstream once against as we finally get the long awaited showdown between Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor. On the same night, albeit on a different card, we get the chance to see a potentially thrilling action fight between Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto (40-5, 33) and all action Japanese brawler Yoshihiro Kamegai (27-3-2, 24) for the WBO Light Middleweight title. The bout might not get the attention of the Mayweather Vs McGregor fight, but has the potential to be something much more exciting.
Of the two fighters it's Cotto who is the much more established and proven fighter. He's been a world champion in 4 weight classes, from Light Welterweight to Middleweight, and been one of the biggest names in world boxing for around a decade. At his best Cotto was a supreme boxer-puncher, who was exciting and aggressive, high skilled and a truly sensational fighter. His success in the ring will likely make him a first-ballot hall of famer, and with wins against the likes of Paul Malignaggi, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Sergio Martinez and Antonio Margarito his record speaks volumes. Whilst he has been beaten, by the likes of Margarito, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Austin Trout and Saul Alvarez, he has faced so many top fighters that there is no shame in losing to the fighters he's been beaten by.
Despite once being one of the sports top pound-for-pound fighters Cotto has been out of the ring since November 2015, when he lost to Saul Alvarez. That sort of inactivity, especially at the age of 36, won't help the Puerto Rican. Neither will his long and hard career, which has seen him in numerous damaging wars.
Although much less well known Kamegai has become a relatively well known fighter around the globe and is one of the fighters who consistently delivers thrilling contests. He's a flawed fighter, with terrible foot work and a worryingly limited defense, but his incredible toughness, insane stamina and his willingness to take one to land one makes him a handful for fighters looking for a brawl. Against fighters that move Kamegai looks really limited, as we've seen in his losses to Johan Perez and Alfonso Gomez, but when fighters stand their ground Kamegai tends to come out on top.
Kamegai's recent wars with Jesus Soto Karass were back-to-back Fight of the Year contenders, and following those wars he has had a break from the ring, having not fought since last September. That sort of a break will help him recover physically and it's fair to say he'll be truly driven to make the most of his chance to become a world champion.
At his best Cotto would walk this bout. He would box, move and easily out point Kamegai over 12 rounds. Now with the clock ticking on Cotto's career, and with inactivity mounting, it's not as much of a foregone conclusion as it once was. We'd still suspect that a Cotto decision win would be the most likely, but we've seen some shocks this year, and if a hungry Kamegai can make this into a war, there is a chance he could break down Cotto for the late stoppage. It's a slim chance, but one that we can certainly see playing out.
This coming Tuesday we'll see a mouth watering WBC Bantamweight world title fight, as long reigning champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (27-0-2, 19) [山中慎介] faces off with unbeaten mandatory challenger Luis Nery (23-0, 17), in a bout that really is brilliant on paper and is viewed by many as a 50-50 contest.
The Japanese world champion has been the WBC Bantamweight king since November 2011, making him the longest reigning current world champion, and in that time he has racked up 12 title defenses. Unlike many long term champions he hasn't been racking them up against weak opponents, instead defending his belt against the likes of Vic Darchninyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Anselmo Moreno and Liborio Solis. That's not to say there hasn't been some poor challengers, such as Carlos Carlson and Diego Ricardo Santillan, but for the most part his reign has come against top tier competition.
The Konana born champion is aged 34, so getting on a bit, but has got a style that doesn't depend on youth and age. Instead it's a simple style with his whole game plan being based on landing his straight left hand, which has seen off a number of opponents. Although he “only” has a 66% KO rate he has stopped 9 of his last 13 and is regarded as one of the biggest punchers in the sport, on a pound for pound basis. As we all know, power is the last thing a fighter loses.
Although not the quickest, or hardest working, Yamanaka controls the ring well, and often takes on the role of a counter puncher, looking to land his left hand on an aggressive foe. It is however too easy to say Yamanaka is a 1-trick pony as he can brawl, he can come forward and he has got a nice jab, and right hook, when he decides to use them.
Whilst there is little new to say about Yamanaka's style which hasn't been said before, he has got a special reason to be particularly determined here. A win against Nery will see Yamanaka record his 13th world title defense, tying a long standing Japanese record for most defenses. That record was set back in the 1970's and 1980's when Yoko Gushiken made 13 defenses of the WBA Light Flyweight title, and it's clear that tying that record will be a huge achievement for Yamanaka. It's also worth noting that if he's the champion in 2018 there could be a potential bout against Naoya Inoue in the pipeline, if the Monster moves up as expected.
Aged 22 this bout is a potential coming out party for the challenger, who is known by hardcore fans and has been bubbling just under the surface for a few years now, with some dubbing him the 2016 Prospect of the Year. Whilst only 22 it's worth noting that he's a 5 year veteran who debuted back in May 2012 and began making some real noise in 2014, with wins over Victor Mendez and Carlos Fontes. Since then he he has gone 8-0 (7) scoring wins over a number of Filipino's like Jether Oliva, John Mark Apolinario, Richie Mepranum and Raymond Tabugon. Notably the one win that really stands out is a stoppage of David Sanchez, last year, but it is worth noting that Sanchez had been stopped just 2 fights earlier.
In the ring Nery is an ultra aggressive fighter. He brings the pressure, lets his hands go from the opening round and looks to take out opponents from the early stages. He can look wild and reckless at at times, but is clearly dangerous with both hands, and loves to look for the right hook. It's worth noting that the has been dropped before, with Tabugon doing it in the first round of their bout last December. It's an exciting and fan friendly style that he has, but one that really has worked so well because he's been facing naturally smaller men, who will back off.
Although unbeaten one could ask “what good Bantamweights has Nery beaten?” And the truth is that he hasn't yet beaten a world class Bantamweight. That's not to say he can't, but he is stepping up massively here, and taking on his best foe by far. He could really shine and swarm Yamanaka, showing too much fire for the old dog, but he could just as easily be out classed by the man regarded by many as the best at the weight.
What we're expecting, though again we could be hugely wrong, is for Nery to be his aggressive self in what will be his first bout outside of Mexico. He will be able to have early success with his forward march, but will find Yamanaka's ring craft to be something totally new. The pressure won't be able to pin Yamanaka against the ropes, and instead the champion will time him with counter left hands. There is a good chance Yamanaka will get old over night, but it's hard to imagine that happening here against a fighter like Nery, who just seems to be trying to jump too far, too fast after having faced the competition he has for the last 5 years.
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.