The lower weight classes have given us regular thrillers in recent years with so many good fighters and so many action packed contests. Given the amount of talent in the lower weight classes, and the mix of styles we do seem to get some fantastic bouts every time we throw together any of the top 15 or so fighters in any of the lower weight classes. That's likely to be the case again this coming Saturday when Filipino Milan Melindo (34-2, 12) battles Thai Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (31-4-1, 16) for the IBF “interim” Light Flyweight title in Cebu City.
Whilst the winner won't be a world champion, instead they will have to face Akira Yaegashi in the imminent future, the bout should still be a thriller between two world class fighters who should gel stylistically.
The favourite will be local star Melindo, who not only has home advantage but is also the older fighter with an 11 year career behind him. He is regarded as a brilliantly talented technician who lacks in size and strength but is amazingly well schooled and boxes brilliantly as a pure boxer, using great ring control and movement to out score opponents. He can be bullied, as we saw against Javier Mendoza last year, and he can be out boxed, as we saw in 2013 when he fought Juan Francisco Estrada, but not many fighters will have an easy time with him.
Whilst best known for his two losses, both on the road, Melindo has scored notable wins through his career beating the likes of Muhammad Rachman, Carlos Tamara, Francisco Rosas, Jean Piero Perez, Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Martin Tecuapetla and Saul Juarez. With a resume like that Melindo may be one of the most accomplished current fighters to not have won a world title during his career.
The 23 year old Fahlan will be the under-dog but that has never worried him in the past and in fact he often seems to excel in the under-dog role. That was most notable in 2013, when he shocked the boxing world by stopping Ryo Miyazaki in 3 rounds, and was seen again last year when he was controversially defeated by Katsunari Takayama, with Takayama very lucky to avoid a TKO loss. Those bouts, both in Japan, showed that Fahlan was tough, knew when to strike and was criminally over-looked with under-rated skills, and solid power, even if he's not a KO artist. He showed himself as a smart counter puncher. Although he has shown glimpses of real talent he has also shown flaws and was easily out boxed by Takuma Inoue in 2014 and struggled to a win against Lester Abutan last year.
Despite only being 23 Fahlan is a 6 year professional with 36 bouts under his belt and almost 190 rounds. He has a lot of promise and is likely to become a world champion before his career is over, following in the footsteps of his father a former IBF Minimumweight champion. Notably he is taller and rangier than Melindo and may look to use his size advantages to keep Melindo at bay, neutralise the Filipino's jab and take away his key strengths, whilst also slowly chipping away at the Filipino.
In Thailand this bout would see Fahlan likely being the favourite, with home advantage having been a key, in the Philippines Melindo is understandably the favourite. On paper Melindo is the more talented, the more skilled and the more proven fighter and that higher level of proven ability and home advantage will likely help him to the win. However Fahlan won't travel with out hunting a win and he will give Melindo hell from the first round to the last, whether the bout is a boxing contest or a fight. With Fahlan being a tough ask for anyone he will push Melindo all the way, but we do expect to see Melindo take a clear decision win here.
Retirements in boxing are short, we've seen multiple fighters retire more than once. The latest great to retire and then un-retire, is Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38) who retired back in April, follow his third bout against Timothy Bradley, but less than 7 months later to face WBO Welterweight champion Jessie Vargas (27-1, 10), who actually lost to Bradley himself in mid 2015.
Pacquiao's retirement, at the age of 37, wasn't hugely unexpected, and neither was his return to the ring. Though some did expect that he would be away from the ring for a bit longer than a meagre 7 months. At his age it's hard to say just what he has left, but he was dominant last time when he easily defeat Bradly, dropping the American twice and winning 116-110 on all 3 cards. Despite his age he is still one of the best fighters on the planet with under-rated skills, explosive power and speed and the experience that most other fights can only dream of.
Although not as destructive as he was in years gone by, at lower weights, Pacquiao is still a real handful for anyone and losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr and Juan Manuel Marquez in recent years don't change that. Especially not when you consider his relatively recent wins against the likes of Bradley, Brandon Rios and Chris Algieri, all of whom posed different stylistic questions of Pacquiao.
With his legacy safely sealed the Filipino is no longer fighting for his place in history. He's assured a place in the hall of fame, having won titles from Flyweight to Light Middleweight, he's a national treasure of the Philippines and is a fighter who is now achieving things out of the ring, having become a senator in his homeland. With his off the ball there is a chance we will see Pacquaio be a shadow of the fighter who beat Bradley with ease, alternatively there is a chance that Pacquiao, fighting for himself, will be back to the fighter he once was knowing there is no pressure to fight for others. If we see Pacquiao return to being the destructive, aggressive, monster he once was then we might well see him looking unbeatable, as he looked years ago.
At the age of 27 Vargas is 10 years younger than Pacquiao and is in his physical pomp. That was seen clearly last time out when he scored his best stoppage win, stopping the previously unbeaten and highly touted Sadam Ali in 9 rounds. In his bout before that he came close to scoring an incredibly late stoppage against Tom Bradley, in a competitive losing effort. The loss to Bradley has been Vargas's only defeat in 28 bouts, over a career that started back in September 2008.
In the ring Vargas has been accused of being boxing, and early in his career he was certainly not an exciting fighter to watch. He was a busy fighter, who let his hands go on a frequent basis, but lacked power and rarely sat down on his shots. That lack of power lead to 10 straight decision wins between September 2011 and his 2015 loss to Bradley and led many to turn away from his bouts, however he has began sitting on punches more recent and has grown into a relatively fun fighter who a full fledged Welterweight and will tower over Pacquiao and have a clear reach advantage.
Whilst not regarded as a major star Vargas has actually been notching solid wins in recent years, even if some were controversial. Those wins include victories over the likes of Josesito Lopez, Steve Forbes, Aaron Martinez, Wale Omotoso, Khabib Allakhverdiev, Anton Novikov, Antonio DeMarco and Sadam Ali. Notably he has been proving himself against unbeaten fighters through his career, with 7 wins over unbeaten fighters including Ali (22-0), Novikov (29-0), Allakhverdiev (19-0) and Omotoso (23-0).
Up against Pacquiao we will see Vargas being forced to answer some serious questions. Will he be able to take Pacquiao's power, will he be able to establish his tempo and will he manage to use his youth and physical size to bully and out work the Filipino?
The popular opinion is that Pacquiao will easily over-come Vargas. He is, after all, Pacquiao, the great Filipino icon. But this really could turn out to be a passing of the torch fight with Vargas hold advantages in youth and size. We know Pacquiao has battered taller fighters, like Antonio Margarito and Chris Algieri, but that was years ago and this could be a much tougher ask. Saying that we do think Pacquiao will still have enough in the tank to reclaim the WBO Welterweight title, but we don't think this will be as easy as some are suggesting.
This coming weekend is a packed one with 4 world title bouts taking place on the same show in Las Vegas. Arguably the most perplexing of those sees little known Japanese fighter Hiroshige Osawa (30-3-4, 19) face fast rising Mexican star Oscar Valdez (20-0, 18), who will be making his first defense of the WBO Featherweight title. Notably Osawa enters the bout as the #1 ranked contender to Valdez, but really is a very unknown fighter in a division that boasts a number of bigger, more established and more notable names.
As mentioned Valdez is a rising star making his first defense and looking to establish himself as one of the very best Featherweights on the planet. Out of the ring he has the natural charisma of a star, he speaks both Spanish and English, and is a really good looking kid. In the ring he's a monster, an absolute monster who combines excellent skills, with speed, a high boxing IQ, really good composure, oh and frightening power.
With a 90% KO rate Valdez's power cannot be over-stated. He's a frightening puncher. However he's not just a puncher, much like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Shinsuke Yamanaka there is much more to to Valdez than just his punching power. He was an excellent amateur and is a 2-time Olympian, a world Youth amateur champion and World Amateur Championship's bronze medal winner, losing in the final to the amazing Vasyl Lomachenko. That amateur pedigree explains the skills and the composure but the power and charisma are really what will help make him a star, and his style is explosive, eye catching and exciting.
There are still some things that Valdez needs to prove, such as his stamina which is untested though he has been 10 rounds once, and he has got a question mark over his chin with a knockdown against him a few fights back, albeit a flash knockdown. There is also a question mark about whether he enjoys actually forcing a fight, with Valdez looking a better counter puncher than a front foot fighter, and a fighter could possibly frustrate him into making mistake by being incredibly patient rather than giving him chances and openings.
Whilst the 25 year old Valdez is a rising star his opponent really is a bit of an unknown, even towards some Japanese fans, and at 31 years old Osawa is what will likely be his only chance at making a name for himself. We know it's odd to describe Osawa as an unknown, especially given that he's a former OPBF champions and a former WBO Asia Pacific “interim” champion, but he really is an unknown to many fans, including a lot in Japan. In fact some fans may actually know him best for the fact he suffered a year long suspension for taking part in a bout that the JBC were lied to.
Out of the ring Osawa is an amazing guy, he's done a lot with a foster care home and has regularly donated money to charities based on disabilities. That out of the ring activity has seen him earn the “Caregiver boxer” moniker, one of many that he has, and he does seem like the sort of fighter who really is a brilliant person on a humanitarian level. Sadly in the ring he's nothing special, and that's not an insult just the truth. Through his 37 bout career his most notable wins are a decision wins over Jonel Alibo and Eddy Comaro along with stoppage wins against Shota Yamaguchi, Kosuke Saka and Naoki Matsudam and whilst we love Kosuke Saka he shouldn't be a top win for a #1 contender.
In the ring Osawa is a decent boxer, with solid but unspectacular skills, limited power, a lack of speed and some worrying inaccuracy with his shots. It appears he's grown into a bit of power, with his last 8 bouts ending in stoppage wins, and he's actually stopped 10 of his last 11, but they have generally been against low level competition. One thing that is perhaps worthy of not is that Osawa has only been stopped once, and that was way back in 2005 and at Lightweight, when Daiki Koide beat him in 6 rounds.
Valdez will come in to this as the clear favourite, as he should do, and it's hard to see how he'll be upset. Osawa doesn't have the skills to match him or the power to really be given a “puncher's chance”. However Osawa won't have travelled to just roll over, Japanese fighters might have a reputation for losing away from home but they rarely just fall over and we suspect to see Osawa to go down swinging, likely in in the middle rounds, after perhaps frustrating Valdez for a few rounds before being stopped.
(Image courtesy of http://hiroshige0519.com)
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.