This coming Saturday is an interesting day for fight fans, and potentially the bout of the day is a bit of a hidden gem, as Kazakh born Russian Sergey Lipinets (12-0, 10) faces off with Japanese warrior Akihiro Kondo (29-6-1, 16) for the IBF Light Welterweight title. The bout is on US TV but the reality is that American fans won't be massively familiar with either man, and will instead be tuning in for some of the bigger names on offer, such as Deontay Wilder and Shawn Porter. Despite not tuning in particularly for Lipinets Vs Kondo the bout does have a good chance of stealing the show.
Of the two men the one more well known by Western fans will be Lipinets. This will be his 9th bout on US soil and follows notable wins over the likes of Cosme Rivera, Haskell Rhodes, Levan Ghvamichava and Leonardo Zappavigna. During those bouts Lipinet's has shown his exciting, heavy handed and calculated style. As with many of the rising Central Asian fighters Lipinets is well schooled and hits like a hammer, with every shot he lands being thudding. He's not a man the quickest or the most slick but he's got under-rated nuances, both offensively and defensively.
At time Lipinets can look a little slow and even one paced, though it seems like he's sometimes taking his time to read his opponent, and then slowly cranks it up after he's gotten a good look the man in the opposite corner. When he does up things he looks really good and throws some really varied body shots, with his left hook to the mid-section completely destroying the teak tough Ghvamichava last year.
Although unbeaten and talented Lipinets hasn't always had things his own way. He lost a number of rounds against Zappavigna before stopping the Aussie last December, and it does seem like the way to beat him is on points. Crowding him up close and stopping him from getting extension on his shots is key to beating him, as is out working him, without taking too much punishment. That is however easier said than done and when Lipinets lets his shots go they are damaging, and although Zappavigna had some success he was left cut, and beaten up at the end, being ground into submission.
Unless you're a Japanese fans there is a good chance you won't have seen Kondo, or even know that much about him. The is despite the fact that the 32 year old is an 11 year professional with 36 bouts and reigns as the Japanese Lightweight and WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight champion. Whilst you may not have seen Kondo he has been a notable part of an intriguing Japanese scene at 135 and 140, which has seen him twice face off with Yoshitaka Kato and Nihito Arakawa. Other notable foes to have faced Kondo include Patomsuk Pathompothong, Ricky Sismundo, Jimrex Jaca and Ryuji Migaki.
Like Kato and Arakawa it's fair to say that Kondo is teak tough, a proper hard nut like many Japanese fighters are. He's yet to suffer a stoppage loss, and has gone 10 or more rounds in 5 different bouts. He has shown his toughness, energy and warrior mentality, though has come up short a number of times, losing by split or majority decision 4 times, a technical decision once and a razor thin loss in one other bout. He can be out boxed and out brawled, but he's always coming to fight, and does hit harder than his record suggests, especially in recent years ith 5 straight stoppages coming into this bout.
Kondo has stated that he will be looking to use his speed here, though the truth is that he's not that quick, and the reality is that he's likely to be dragged into a war sooner rather than later. When that happens we'll see how tough Kondo is at this level, and how willing he is to take the power of Lipinets. If he can take one to land one then we could be in for something very special.
We suspect that Lipinets' better skills and heavier hands will be too much for Kondo in the middle rounds, but until we get that far we're expecting to see an all action bout. Kondo will likely try to box and move early on before getting dragged more and more into a war, before we finally get a show stealing fire fight. When that happens we expect Lipinets to come out on top, but not until the fans have had something to remember.
The Light Heavyweight division is one of the divisions which has a lot of talent in it's ranks, and has fans waiting for the top men to face each other and let us really know who is the best at 175lbs. Fighters like Adonis Stevenson, Sergey Kovalev and Badou Jack are the top names whilst contenders continue to mount, with the likes of Eleider Alvarez, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Artur Beterbiev and Marcus Browne all looking for a shot at the top.
Another fighter looking to announce himself as a top divisional fighter is WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (11-0, 9), a Kyrgyzstan born Russian based boxer-puncher who recently claimed the WA title when Jack chose to vacate rather than give Bivol his long awaited Mandatory title shot. The talented 26 year old Bivol will be up against once beaten Australian Trent Broadhurst (20-1, 12),with the two men fighting in Monaco.
Of the two fighters it's obviously Bivol who enters as a fighter looking to make a statement. From his debut in November 2014 it was clear that Bivol was going to be fast tracked. That fast tracking saw Bivol fight for the WBA interim title in just his 7th bout, after just 29 rounds of professional action. He would go on to claim that interim title with a win over the previously unbeaten Felix Valera. Sadly as an interim champion Bivol failed to make the most of his title, only defending it once, though it was clear he was chasing a full world title fight. Sadly he wouldn't get a shot due to the politics of the sport,but would be upgraded when Badou Jack decided Bivol wasn't worth the ring of a mandatory defense.
Although yet to score a career defining win Bivol has been consistently impressing. He's shown really consistent and intelligent pressure with a very good work rate, very solid power and smart pressure. He's yet to be given a real chin check, and hasn't faced anyone with the IQ or skills to make his pressure work against him, but when he's had to show some variety he has managed. It should be noted though that he has shown a bit of a 1-paced fighting style and does sometimes struggle when fighters use a good defense, though they have often been left handcuffed by Bivol's constant work, as seen when Bivol beat Cedric Agnew.
Whilst Bivol is viewed by many as the heir apparent for the Light Heavyweight division the 29 year old Broadhurst is seen as the lamb to the slaughter. The Australian challenger has yet to fight above Australian domestic level, with his sole loss being a 5th round KO defeat to Robert Berridge in 2011, who was himself stopped in 4 rounds by Bivol. Whilst some may suggest the loss to Berridge was more than 6 years ago there really isn't much on Broadhurst's record to show he's developed beyond the likes of Berridge. He does hold wins over the shop work Nader Haman, the crude Rob Powdrill, and the under-sized Affif Belghecham. One thing that has impressed is the fact he's shown solid power, but at best that power is only “solid”.
In the ring Broadhurst is a bit simple, he can apply pressure and does have some nice combinations and head movement, but it's more the fact that those things look better at domestic level than they will when he faces Bivol. It's easy to throw combinations that look nice against limited foes who aren't throwing back. He has been forced on to the back foot before and seems very unsure of himself when he is forced backwards. He's looked flawed on the lower tiers and whilst we have seen fighters step up when t mattered they had usually shown some tools of note, whilst Broadhurst hasn't and has looked very basic so far.
It really is hard to see anything but a showcase win for Bivol here in front of an audience in Monaco and TV cameras from the UK. Broadhurst might have to fleeting moments, but Bivol will quickly put an end to Broahurt's ambition before breaking him down and stopping him. We don't imagine the Aussie will willingly roll over, but we don't see how he will be able to cope for long with the pressure and power of Bivol, who really is something special.
In recent times we've began to see the Super Flyweight division get the attention it has long deserved. Whilst that attention is long over-due it is great to see so many top "little guys" getting attention on both American (HBO) and British (Boxnation and Sky Sports) TV. It's been fantastic to see the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada and Naoya Inoue get a chance to shine in front of a huge global audience, something that never seemed likely when the division had fighters like Hugo Fidel Cazares, Nobuo Nashiro, Kohei Kono, Omar Andres Narvaez, Suriyan Sor Runvisai and Rodrigo Guerrero tearing it up in some thrillers earlier in the decade. That momentum looks to continue this coming weekend when unbeaten WBA champion Kal Yafai (22-0, 14) takes on Japanese challenger Sho Ishida (24-0, 13) at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. For both men it's a huge opportunity to join the big leagues and move towards securing a match up on "Superfly 2", which HBO will air in February 2018, potentially with the likes of the aforementioned Gonzalez or Cuadras.
For Yafai the bout will act as his second defense of the title, which he won late last year when he beat a weary looking Luis Concepcion, and follows a surprisingly draining win over form Japanese Flyweight champion Suguru Muranaka whilst Ishida will be getting his first world title fight, after hovering in the world rankings for the last few years and slowly climbing to a mandatory position. Of the two men it's the defending champion who is the more well know and the the clear betting favourite, though the challenger is the one looking for a small slice of history, and knows a win will see him become the first Japanese fighter to win a world title in Europe, following a number of failures by the likes of Hidenori Otake, Ryosuke Iwasa and the previously mentioned Muranaka.
In the ring ring Yafai has proven himself as a talented boxer-puncher. He's not the biggest hitter in the division, and his power doesn't strike fear into opponents like that of Inoue or Gonzalez, but he's solid in his punches, moves really well and has shown he can fight well for 12 rounds. In terms of championship status he is perceived one of the weaker champions, along with Jerwin Ancajas, but being “weaker” here really isn't an insult given the talent in the division.
To date Yafai's biggest wins have been against over the likes of Dixon Flores, Luis Concepcion and Muranaka. Against Flores we saw Yafai look like a killer, blasting him away inside a round with body shots, against Concepcion we saw a very disciplined performance whilst against Muranaka we saw Yafai being forced to fight 12 hard rounds against a man simply refused to go backwards. In all 3 bouts we saw Yafai win, with few problems, but all 3 bouts saw the Englishman showing something new. It should be noted however that whilst Yafai is a good fighter, with very good amateur pedigree, he's not the biggest fighter in the division and a number of fighters at 115lbs will tower over him.
Talking about fighters who will tower over Yafai that will certainly be the case when he takes on Ishida, who is a freakish fighter for 115lbs and stands at 5'8” with a huge wingspan. Unsurprisingly for such a tall fighter Ishida looks to fight at range, using his feet well to keep range and making the most of his long and rangy jab. He can fight up close when he needs to, and unlike many tall fighters he's actually really good at going to the body, as seen in his win over Petchbarngborn Kokietgym.
Although Ishida isn't well known outside of Japan he does hold a number of notable wins. These include not only the win over Petchbarngborn but also wins over Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking, Yohei Tobe and current Japanese champion Ryuichi Funai. Those opponents might not mean a lot in the West but there are all solid fighters who will have helped Ishida develop his skills. Also helping his development will be his training at the Ioka gym, alongside Kazuto Ioka, Masayoshi Nakatani and Ryo Miyazaki. The gym has a number of top fighters to help Ishida prepare for a world title fight, and although some of his recent competition has been week, as he's fought in a number of stay busy fights, he is a real talent.
Travelling to Wales will be a new experience for Ishida, it's his first fight outside of Japan and will be a unique experience. He will also travel with the knowledge that no Japanese fighter has ever won a world title fight in Europe. Despite all that he'll be a very live under-dog, who will be full of self belief. The popular view here seems to be that Yafai will be too good and too physical for Ishida but the reality is that Yafai couldn't physically impose himself on Muranaka, a Flyweight, and given that Ishida is not only bigger but also well schooled himself this could be a very tough defense for the champion.
We can see Yafai winning, and he's not the clear betting favourite for no reason, but we certainly see this as being more competitive than the bookmakers, and British fans in general,expect it to be.
It's fair to say that 2017 has been a brilliant year for boxing, with so many great fights having already taken place. Sadly it's also been marred by a pretty consistent stream of poor decisions. One of the worst came back in May in Japan when Ryota Murata (12-1, 9) lost his unbeaten record to Frenchman Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (36-2, 21), who claimed the WBA Middleweight title with a decision that was widely viewed as a massive gift. In fact so bad was the decision that two of the judges were suspended by the WBA and an immediate rematch was ordered. That rematch will take place this coming weekend and will see N'Dam seeking to make his first defense of a “tainted” reign whilst Murata will look to avenge his loss.
Going into the first bout it was N'Dam who was widely favoured. He had proven himself at a high level, and despite two losses had certainly shown himself to be a world class operator, with incredible toughness and resiliency. He went in to the bout as a fighter known for being slick, a brilliant mover and although everyone questions his chin he always manages to show amazing re-recuperative powers, coming through some staggering knockdowns.
Aged 33 N'Dam is coming to the end of his physical prime, and there will likely be signs of both natural slowdown and and the wear and tear of tough bouts, but he still appears to be a smart and confident fighter. He looked sharp and full of bravado at the pre-fight public work out and certainly seems to be a fighter who has worked on a game plan to defeat Murata, working hard on neutralising the powerful right hand of the Japanese puncher.
Whilst N'Dam is proven, and is the champion, there are few who feel he won the first bout with Murata. He was too inactive, too open to the right hand and he lacked the physicality to get Murata's respect. He showed touches of great ability, but a lack of fire and hunger and he really was very lucky to get bailed out by the judges.
As for Murata the Japanese former amateur stand out, who won an Olympic Gold and a world Amateur Silver, he went into the first fight as a fighter who wasn't given much respect. He had looked lacklustre on his US debut, against Gunnar Jackson, and had left fans thinking that maybe he wasn't as good as his amateur pedigree suggested. There was real touches of class, but too many questions to favour him against N'Dam in May. In their first bout however it was Murata who shone, using his power,footwork and physicality to force N'Dam on to the back foot, and shake the Frenchman a number of times.
At the age of 31 Murata is still in his prime, and despite having had a long amateur carer he is still a very fresh fighter, with just 77 rounds of professional experience. He's tough, heavy handed and and highly skilled, whilst adding to his experience with every fight. It was possibly a lack of experience that worked against him when he faced N'Dam the first time, and whilst he was in charge he just failed to put his foot on the gas in the way he should have.
Although it's clear that N'Dam has worked on ways to counter Murata's dangerous right hand it's hard to see anything but a dominant win for the Japanese fighter, who will be looking to close the show this time and keep the result out of the hands of the judges. The Japanese fighter will look to force his will and this time we suspect he will look to crush the Frenchman. Whilst N'Dam is tough we do see Murata actually stopping him here, and really making a statement to become Japan's second ever Middleweight world champion.
This coming Sunday we will be able to see WBC Light Flyweight champion Ken Shiro (10-0, 5) make his first defense of the title as he takes on former champion Pedro Guevara (30-2-1, 17) in a really intriguing mandatory title fight. On one hand there is a chance to see just what Ken Shiro is like as a champion, having risen through the ranks incredibly quickly, whilst on the other hand we'll be able to see however goes about reclaiming the title, which he actually lost in Japan almost 2 years ago.
The linage of the WBC Light Flyweight title in recent years has been really interesting, and dominated by a Japan Vs Mexico rivalry. That rivalry saw Guevara beat Akira Yaegashi for title in 2014, lost it to Yu Kimura in 2015 who in turn lost it to Ganigan Lopez in 2016 and it was Lopez who was beaten by Ken Shiro for the belt, this past May. That rivalry has been an over-looked one, but has certainly been a competitive and entertaining one.
Guevara really shined in his title winning effort against Yaegashi. He looked like a fighter who perfectly combined skills, boxing IQ and power to over-come one of the top modern day warriors. Since then however Guevara has faltered some what. He was unlucky to lose to Kimura, in what was his third defense, but he had been rather lucky to get the win in his previous defense against the aforementioned Lopez. He has also failed to really shine against either Ruben Montoya and Oswaldo Novoa, in bouts since the loss to Kimura.
Although not shining since losing the title it's fair to say that we know how good Guevara is. He holds wins over the likes of Mario Rodriguez, Raul Garcia, Yaegashi, Lopez and Novoa. At one point he was likely regarded as the best fighter in the division and really does combine intelligence with boxing, in a way that very few do. Out of the ring he's an incredible smart man, and in the ring he continues to show that intelligence in his boxing style. At times it's a flaw, with Guevara perhaps lacking a little in activity, but technically he's very good.
On thing worth noting about Guevara coming into this bout is the fact he has only fought 8 rounds in the last 52 weeks, and that type of activity doesn't help a fighter fighting for a world title.
Japanese fighter Ken Shiro was earmarked as a fighter on the fast track from the moment he made his debut, against Heri Amol. In just his 5th bout he claimed the WBC Youth title before assing the Japanese and OPBF titles in his next 3 fights as he began to beat better competition, such as Kenichi Horikawa and Atsushi Kakutani. During his rise he showed he could brawl, box and pretty much slip between the two. He could be hurt, and was dropped early in his career, but showed the know-how to fight to his strengths when he needed to, and he could take a decent shot, as he showed against Lopez earlier this year.
Although a relative novice with just 10 professional bouts under his belt Ken Shiro is actually an experienced fighter, having been a notable amateur before turning professional and he's also from a fighting family with his father having been a former Japanese and OPBF champion himself. Despite the experience he's not the high IQ fighter that Guevara is, but he is well schooled and does show good composure in the ring.
In a neutral venue we suspect that Guevara's higher level of skill and experience would help him to a victory and to reclaiming the title. He is however on the road here, and with crowd being behind Ken Shiro, we suspect he'll be pushed over the line, and narrowly retain the title, in a decision which will be disputed, but not a robbery. Guevara will certainly have really good moments, but those moment will be forgotten as the crowd cheer everything the local star does, and just do enough to help him claim the win.
This coming Sunday fans will get a triple world title show at the Kokugikan in Japan. One of those bouts will see Flyweight destroyer Daigo Higa (13-0, 13) attempt to continue his perfect stoppage run, and make his first defense of the WBC Flyweight title, as he takes on former 2-time European champion Thomas Masson (17-3-1, 5). The bout will be Higa's first against a European opponent, with rumours an Andrew Selby fight expected next year, and would be Masson's second fight outside of France.
For those who haven't yet seen Higa you've been missing out on one of the most exciting pressure fighters of the current era. Higa combines under-rated footwork, with truly vicious power, and smart defense, which allowed him to get inside and work away at the head or body of his foes. Although only a Flyweight he is a man who is mowing opponents down with his heavy hands, and stopped all 13 previous opponents in a combined 48 rounds.
With an average fight length of less than 4 rounds there are some who would question Higa's stamina, especially if he's going to be forced to chase an opponent for 12 rounds. We have however seen Higa go into the second half of fights, and look just as energetic as he did in the earlier stages. This was notable in his 7th round win over Kongfah CP Freshmart and his 10th round over Renren Tesorio. It was also notable that last time out, against Juan Hernandez, that Higa seemed to be getting more and more effective whilst Hernandez was being worn down by the pressure and power of the Japanese youngster.
Higa's style is a nice blend of his mentor's, Yoko Gushiken, and Nicaraguan great Roman Gonzalez, with Higa once being described as the “Romagon of Okinawa”. Like those two fighters he is ultra aggressive, but like those two fighters there is more than just aggression to what he does and and it's those subtle defensive moves, his ability to switch between head and body, and his frightening power than makes him so effective.
As for Masson things are very different, and he's much more of a boxer-mover. He's got nice movement and likes to keep things fought at his tempo, whilst establishing his jab and straight right hand. Defensively he's quite open but does have a really sharp jab and nice footwork. Unfortunately for Masson he's very upright and has a low left hand, which is likely to be an invitation to Higa. Whilst he's very upright he's also very tall, listed at 5'7” and whilst he can use that heigh well he is lacking in terms of his inside game and does often look pretty 1-paced behind his jab.
During his career so far Masson has been beaten by two men. Domestic rival Badis Ouari holds two decisions over him and Ashley Sexton, who took a clear win over the Frenchman in his only outing outside of France. Since his last loss the Frenchman has reeled off 9 straight wins, whilst claiming the French Flyweight title and twice becoming the European champion. During his career he has gone 12 rounds twice, and scored notable wins over the likes of Silvio Olteanu and Oleksandr Hryshchuk, which are both good wins, but a long way from world class.
Whilst we can certainly see Masson having his moments, especially early in the bout, we think the pressure and power of Higa will be too much and the body shots will take their toll on the long frame of the challenger. We certainly believe Masson will ask some new questions of Higa, before being broken down and stopped in the middle rounds.
Unification bouts are rare in boxing, though thankfully their rareness comes with the feeling that every one of them that we do get is that little bit special. That's arguably the case this coming Saturday as the WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles get unified in Belfast. Going into that bout as champions will be Kazakh brawler Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-1, 18) and Northern Irish slickster Ryan Burnett (17-0, 9), with Zhakiyanov entering as the WBA champion and Burnett at the IBF king.
Aged 33, and soon to be 34, the Kazakh is really at the point in his career where a loss could well be the end of his career, at least at the top level. That's ignoring the fact that he has actually only just arrived on the world stage, winning his WBA title last time out in a split decision win over Rau-shee Warren in the US. Had the decision gone against him, there's a good chance that Zhakiyanov would have joined the “who needs him?” club and not been able to get a second shot at a world title.
Amazingly for Zhakiyanov his reign was rather lucky, and in his win he was dropped twice, in the opening round by Warren. A smarter fighter than Warren would have jumped on Zhakiyanov in round 2 and closed the show, but the American took his foot off the gas and let the Kazakh regroup, before he out hustled and out-worked the American to earn the decision. That bout proved that Zhakiyanov can over-come real adversity but also showed his limitations and it was clear that he really was a fighter with only one plan, and that pressure.
Although a pressure fighter at heart Zhakiyanov does have very solid power, as shown back in 2014 with his KO of the Year contender against Karim Guerfi. Sadly though he's slow of foot and his punches are certainly not the most technically correct or the fastest. As a results he can be out boxed.
Whilst Zahkiyanov is a pressure fighter Burnett is a pure boxer, and a very talented, slick one at that. He can box on the front foot, or the back foot, and although he's not the most aggressive or exciting of fighters he is one of those natural talents who looks so composed and at ease in the ring that boxing looks second nature to him. He moves wonderfully around the ring and controls distance brilliantly, especially on the back foot where his boxing brain really does shine. Although he can fight on the front foot he does look a lot more effective on the back foot.
Burnett has long been championed as a star for British boxing and at times has shown incredible skills. Whilst those skills are impressive he has also shown a lot of frustrating traits. He's note more than 2 years removed from his last stoppage and his lack of killer instinct has been really annoying, especially given that he has dropped a number of fighters but never gone for the kill, instead racking up unnecessary rounds and potentially boring fans, when he should be using those skills to shine.
Whilst Burnett is incredibly frustrating for fans he's also a nightmare to face, and stylistically Zhankiyanov is made to order. The pressure of the Kazakh will allow Burnett to tee-off on him and make him look stupid. There is a chance that Zhakiyanov will have some moments but the reality is that the movement of Burnett will simply be too much for him, and the sharp shots will take their toll. It's up to Burnett as to whether he'll want to up the pace and seek a stoppage late,but it's hard to see anything but a win for the Northern Irishman.
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.