Just under 3 years ago a young unbeaten Japanese fighter shocked the international boxing public by dethroning the long reigning Thai Oleydong Sithsamerchai. Although Oleydong was struggling with 105lb weight limit few, outside of Japan, had given the then 6-0 Kazuto Ioka more than a slim chance to claim the WBC Minimumweight title. As we all know though Ioka would stop Oleydong and claim the world title.
Since beating Oleydong back in February 2011 Ioka (now 13-0, 9) has become one of the dominant fighters in the lower weight divisions. He has unified the WBC and WBA Minimumweight titles and moved up to Light Flyweight where he immediately captured the WBA title.
This New Years Eve see's Ioka, fighting for the third successive year on December 31st, attempt to make the 3rd and possibly final defense of his Light Flyweight.
Following back to back victories against limited but experienced Thai's Ioka is now expected to face a genuine test as he battles Nicaragua's unbeaten Felix Alvarado (18-0, 15). It may not be the Nicaraguan we all hoped Ioka would get in to the ring with this year, he's certainly in for a tough night to end the year.
Ioka, since claiming the WBA Light Flyweight title on New Years Eve 2012 has looked very impressive. He took apart Wisanu Kokietgym back in May before stopping an out classed Kwanthai Sithmorseng in September. Those fights however were against men who really didn't deserve a world title fight despite having a combined record of 86-9-3, neither was great and in fact neither was expected to test Ioka in any way at all.
In Alvarado however we have someone who looks like a bit of a monster. Alvarado is offensively minded, strong and comes to fight. If you try and stand off against Alvarado he is happy to walk you down, show you angles and then unload heavy shots in your direction. It's not always the smoothest of work but it's proven to be effective as he switches from head to body in an attempt to beat up his opponents.
Whilst Alvarado can be out boxed and can be made to look basic by some fighters, only 2 men have ever gotten close to beating him. Arnoldo Solano, who lost a disputed majority decision to Alvarado, and Eliecer Quezada, who lost by a very narrow unanimous decision.
The worrying thing for Alvarado is inexperience. Yes he has more fights than Ioka but his 18 fights to date have only accounted for 51 professional rounds. Less than 3 a fight. Alvarado has gone 10 rounds just once, and has only gone beyond 3 rounds thrice. With 7 opening round KO's and 15 KO's inside 3 rounds he's been used to getting opponents out early but when he's gone beyond 6 he has struggled with pacing.
Ioka, with just 13 fights, has already gotten 96 rounds under his belt which is more than 7 rounds a fight. He has also gone 12 rounds twice and 10 or more rounds on 4 occasions, including his memorable encounter with Akira Yaegashi. That is quality experience and something that gives Ioka a real edge here.
Although less of an offensive machine Ioka is wonderfully skilled with the ability to go forward, box off the back foot and pick his shots at will. He's one of those fighters who always appears to have that little bit of extra time and he uses it to great effect with one of the most beautiful straight right to the body in the sport today. He's not a monster puncher but he is a very clean puncher and his shots, from the jab to the uppercut are all delivered excellently.
Going in to this fight the key is who will be able to dictate the early tempo. If Alvarado can get on to the inside this could be a real war for 3 rounds with both men forced to take hard shots. If Ioka is still standing after 3 rounds however it's going to be very hard for Alvarado to get a victory with Ioka drowning him. Those first 3 rounds are the key for Alvarado.
If Ioka can control the pace and distance for 3 rounds with his jab and movement he'll wear Alvarado down in the second half of the fight before finishing the Nicaraguan, probably with a body shot. Whilst the first 3 rounds are the key for Alvarado we tend to think that the following 3 are the key for Ioka. If the Japanese fighter is still standing after 3 then rounds 5 and 6 particularly will see him taking over the fight.
It's the fact we have 2 very different scenario's that make this so interesting. One thing is for sure though, we'd be very shocked if this goes 12.
Interestingly the story coming out of Japan is that Ioka will be stepping up to Flyweight next year. The strong rumour is that he will be targeting WBC Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi in what could potentially be another FOTY contender, like their first was in 2012. That would see this title becoming vacant, if Ioka is successful. With a number of fighters already wanting to get their hands on the belt including Naoya Inoue and Ioka's stablemate Ryo Miyazaki we may well see several great bouts coming as a result of this one.
For those wanting to tune in to this bout, it'll be on TBS in Japan and there is also talk about it being televised in Alvarado's homeland of Nicaragua. Unfortunately, once again, no Europe or American channel appear to have picked this up.
It's not that often that man leaves a impression on fans with his first title defense but that's exactly what Takashi Miura (26-2-2, 19) did when he traveled to Mexico and defended his WBC Super Featherweight title for the first time. Miura, who put on an absolutely enthralling brawl with Sergio "Yeyo" Thompson, may well have been involved in the true fight of the year.
Despite how good Miura/Thompson was there is every chance that Miura may actually be involved in an even more exciting fight on New Years Eve as he fights Dante Jardon (24-3, 20). Like Thompson, Jardon is a big hitter with an offensive mindset and a real will to win and like the Thompson fight Jardon has the style to give us fireworks when he meets Miura.
Miura first popped on to the international scene back in early 2011 as he challenged the fantastic Takashi Uchiyama for the WBA title. Although Miura came up short on that day, forced to retire due to severe swelling, he had dropped Uchiyama and given his domestic rival a genuinely tough nights work.
Following the loss to Uchiyama few would have expected Miura to go on a 6 fight winning streak defeating both Gamaliel Diaz and Sergio Thompson in back to back fights to win and then defend the WBC title. That however is exactly what Miura has done and in the process he has scored numerous knockdowns and generated a genuine fan base of his own.
Whilst the Japanese Southpaw can be dragged in to a war, as he was against Thompson, he can also box with real success. We wouldn't describe him as the best boxer in the division but his combination of strong boxing and very good brawling makes him nothing short of a pleasure to watch.
In Jardon we do have a lesser fighter but again we have someone who is a real world level talent. The 25 year old Mexican challenger, dubbed "Crazy", is a man who lives up to his nickname. He is rarely in a dull contest and with his power he's not a man to take lightly.
On Jardon's ledger we have seen him scoring victories over Gamaliel Diaz, Miguel Roman, Ricky Sismundo and Rene Gonzalez. Sure he has lost some along the way, including a very early career loss and a split decision to Miguel Roman, both of which have since been avenged, though he has also been stopped, in a massive upset, by Kyohei Tamakoshi.
The loss to Tamakoshi is perhaps the lingering issue for some about Jardon. That loss, which seemed to be partially from over-confidence, saw Jardon losing for the first time in well over 5 years and also saw him ending an 18 fight winning streak. Take out the fact that it was a "bad night at the office" in terms of the result and Jardon has since proven his worth and it's fair to say that he is world class.
What makes this fight exciting is not only the fact we have 2 top 10 guys in the ring together but stylistically they match up perfectly. Both are free swinging, both are heavy handed and both can be knocked down. It's not quite a case of who lands first wins but neither will want to take more than a few shots at a time and any exchange could be the final exchange.
In regards to brawling both men have the power to stop the other. Of that we have no doubt. When it comes to boxing though Miura's slightly more polished boxing skills should see him being able to win rounds and control the fight a little bit more. Jardon's boxing is quite limited, powerful but limited. It's this difference in boxing skills that make us favour Miura by late stoppage.
The fight is guaranteed to have fireworks, it's guaranteed to be explosive and it could well be a very late runner for the best fight of 2013. Do not miss it, or in fact miss the televised card on Tokyo TV which also features the all-Japanese battle between Takashi Uchiyama and Daiki Kaneko. Hopefully 2014 will see the winners colliding, Miura v Uchiyama II anyone?
When we talk about the most destructive men in boxing one name that cannot be forgotten is Japan's fearsomely big hitting Takashi Uchiyama (20-0-1, 17). Uchiyama, who sports an 80.95% KO rate is powerful, hard hitting and arguably the #1 fighter in the Super Featherweight division.
Aged 34 Uchiyama has been a man that is truly feared. His skills are exceptional, his speed may not be great but he's explosive and every shot hurts, be it to the head as he showed against Jorge Solis or the body as he showed against Jaider Parra earlier this year.
As well as being explosive in single shots he's also devastating in combinations, as he showed showed against Brian Vasquez. There really is no proven way of deal with an Uchiyama assault. In fact the only man who has come close was Takashi Miura who dropped Uchiyama before being stopped himself.
The unbeaten Uchiyama, the WBA Super Featherweight champion will be hunting the 8th defense of his title on New Years Eve as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Daiki Kaneko (19-2-3, 12) in a bout that should set pulses rushing through out Japan.
Kaneko, taking part in his first world title fight enters having been the Japanese champion for 18 months. As the Japanese champion Kaneko defended his title 4 times, all by stoppage. Although they were at a lower level than Uchiyama's fights the 25 year old does seem to be coming in to his own at last.
Although Kaneko's record, with 2 losses and 3 draws, does look somewhat poor for a man facing Uchiyama it's worth noting that he hasn't lost in 6 almost years. He has gone 13-0-3 (10) in that time and grown from a teenager with promise to a genuinely talented, hard hitting and highly skilled individual.
The names on Kaneko's record such as Seiichi Okada, Ryota Kajiki and Kyohei Tamakoshi may not be on par with Solis, Salgado, Miura or Vasquez but they are credible wins and have helped Kaneko climb into the WBA and WBC top 10.
Although the names aren't there and the record isn't as good Kaneko does have advantages over Uchiyama. Firstly Kaneko is a lot younger, he's only 25 years old and hasn't got the wear and tear or natural slowing of Uchiyama. Of course this leads us to points 2 and 3, Kaneko is faster and appears to a more consistent work rate. Don't get us wrong's not as clean or as effective work but there is more of it than you'd see from Uchiyama.
The final advantage Kaneko has is the lack of pressure on his shoulders. He's not expected to win. Uchiyama is expected to stop Kaneko and then go on to a rematch with Miura. We'll admit we'd love to see that, but maybe that will help Kaneko here.
When it comes to the bout it's self we expect Kaneko to put up a good fight. We expect to see Kaneko starting fast, putting Uchiyama under pressure and letting his hands go. Unfortunately for Kaneko Uchiyama is defensively sound and should see out the fast start before landing his own heavy artillery from 3 or 4 onwards before Kaneko finally get stopped.
For some this is a total mismatch, for us we only expect one winner, but it's not a total mismatch. It's probably the 5th or 6th best bout you could make at 130 involving Uchiyama. Sure we'd rather see Uchiyama in with Miura, Mikey Garcia, Argenis Mendez, Juan Carlos Burgos or Roman Martinez but that really is it and this really should be interesting for as long as it lasts.
A note for Japanese fans. This fight, along with Takashi Miura v Dante Jordan will be televised on Tokyo TV on New Years Eve. For international fans however it appears no one is showing this in Europe or the US which is a real shame considering how good Uchiyama really is.
When we think about disappointing world champions over the past few years no one really compares to WBA Light Heavyweight "super" champion Biebut Shumenov (13-1, 8).
Shumenov, a former amateur standout from Kazakhstan, seemed like one of the most exciting fighters on the planet when he turned professional way back in 2007. Inside a year of being a pro Shumenov had entered the world rankings, moved his record to an impressive 6-0 (5) and had defeated former world champion Montell Griffin.
The impressive start to Shumenov's career just more and more impressive with him fighting for a world title in his 9th professional contest. Although Shumenov lost, dropping a decision to the then WBA Light Heavyweight champion Gabriel Campillo, he had still impressed with his performance. His performance was so good that he got a rematch, one that he won albeit controversially.
Since winning the WBA title way back in January 2010 Shumenov has defended it just 4 times, the most recent of which came back in June 2012. Yes, it's been 18 months since Shumenov was last active. We're not sure why but the talented and hard hitting Kazakh went from being one of the most exciting fighters in the sport to being an inactive title holder but sadly that's what he's become.
Thankfully this weekend sees the long awaited return to action of Shumenov as he takes on the unbeaten Slovakian Tamas Kovacs (23-0, 14). Aged 36 this will be, by a long, the biggest fight of Kovacs career and a fight that could define his career, if he wins.
Unfortunately for Kovacs the odds are stacked against him, despite the fact he is unbeaten.
Not only is Kovacs 36 but he has several other issues going against him. Firstly this will be his first fight outside of Europe. Although he has fought outside of Slovakia he's never gone further than places like Austria, Hungary and Germany. The journey from Europe to the US, where this fight will be, is likely to have an effect of Kovacs.
Secondly Kovacs has never fought anyone of real note. His most famous opponent is probably Hamza Wandera, the younger brother of Kassim Ouma. Not only is Wandera the most notable on Kovacs record but also the man who gave Kovacs the toughest test dropping him twice en route to losing a majority decision.
From the fact Wandera could drop and hurt Kovacs it leaves us with just one conclusion, Shumenov will stop Kovacs. It may not be early and it may take Shumenov a few rounds to shake off the 18 months of ring rust but eventually Shumenov will break down Kovacs who is really one of the weakest world title challengers in a very long time.
Earlier this year we saw South African Simpiwe Vetyeka (25-2, 15) score one of the biggest wins of his career as he traveled to Indonesia and beat the popular Daud Cino Yordan in an IBO title bout. Vetyeka's reward for winning that bout now seems him facing a second successive Indonesian as faces the legendary Chris John (48-0-3, 22) in an attempt to claim the WBA "super" title at Featherweight.
For many in the west this has already been played down as John fighting another "second rate challenger". Unfortunately this just proves how wrong some fans are when it comes to international fighters and Vetyeka is far from a second rate challenger. In fact Vetyeka is one of the dangerous challengers to John's throne and could well be the man who finally ends the long unbeaten run of Indonesia's greatest ever fighter.
Vetyeka, although relative unknown to those in Europe and America is a fighter who is known in Asia. Not only did he beat Yordan but he also gave Japanese great Hozumi Hasegawa one of the toughest bouts of his career.
Dubbed "V12" Vetyeka is an excellent pure boxer who uses his legs and jab to maintain distance. His work rate is fantastic, he's fast, slippery and whilst he's not a big puncher he can break fighters mentally or physically with his straight shots, accuracy and work rate.
Of course John will be the favourite. The 34 year old who has held some version of the WBA Featherweight title (interim, regular or super) for over a decade has proven to be a genuinely great fighter. He's slated in the west for fighting in the east but at the end of the day there is no real valid claim to call him untalented. His record speaks for it's self and with a 51 fight unbeaten streak it's hard to criticise him. Of course those bouts have included contests with Derrick Gainer, Juan Manuel Marquez, Rocky Juarez, Daud Cino Yordan all of whom are real world level fighters.
At his best John was a tricky boxer with great speed, fantastic movement, lovely combinations and solid defensive skills. As he's gotten older though the speed has started to decline, the movement has slowed and he's been dragged in to more exchanges than he would have liked. These trading sequences have lead to exciting moments in with Yordan, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo and Satoshi Hosono.
We tend to think he was lucky to get of the Satoshi Hosono fight with a third round technical draw. The cut from a clash of heads was a bad one and the ending was fair, but we think Hosono had really good chance to upset John. The Bazooka was almost certainly going to land at some point and hurt John. With that in mind we also need to think that Vetyeka has a real chance against John. If John has slowed any further with his feet we may well see him chasing shadows for portions of this fight.
That's not to say John won't have his moments but we really see him struggling here. This won't be another "easy" defense for John, Vetyeka won't let it be easy. He's too good, too experienced and too determined to let John make it easy.
What we expect to happen is for John to make a good start, taking maybe the first 2 or 3 rounds. Vetyeka will then find his rhythm and take a number of the middle rounds. For us it goes down to the final 3 or 4 rounds as to who will take the win. Vetyeka will certainly not give up, but we also don't expect John to give up his title either. With that in mind a very narrow decision either way seems almost certain.
Could Vetyeka end one of the most impressive unbeaten runs in the sport? The answer, is a very serious yes, yes he could.
Fore those interested in watching this fight, it will LEGALLY streamed on RCTI and can be watched on their website (http://www.rcti.tv/streaming) in English.
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.