Some fighters are regarded as being a class above everyone in their division. Fighters like Wladimir Klitschko, Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez. Another of those it Cuban Super Bantamweight Guillermo Rigondeaux (14-0, 9) who is viewed as so good that others in the division do what they can to ignore him, pretending he doesn't exist and that he'll hopefully retire sooner rather than later. Rigondeaux's seen opponents avoid him like the plague and sadly he has seen promoters and TV cast him as the black sheep of boxing. He is, unfortunately, too good for his own good.
With almost all the fighters in the west now avoiding Rigondeaux it was inevitable he would have to fight in the east, at least for now. There were several possibilities for the Cuban though eventually a bout between himself and OPBF Featherweight champion Hisashi Amagasa (28-4-2, 19) was agreed. The story was one of those “wow” stories for boxing fans, similar to Nobuhiro Ishida becoming a heavyweight, and seems to have genuinely gotten Japanese fans talking.
There is a combination of excitement and apprehension regarding Rigondeaux's venture into Japan though what can't be denied is that this big news and a very, very tough fight for Amagasa, who will be hoping to score a huge upset and claim the WBO and WBA "super" Super Bantamweight titles.
For those who have seen Rigondeaux in action they will know what to expect. He is incredibly skilled, in fact his skills are probably the best of any fighter on the planet. Sadly those skills are combined with a very negative attitude to the combat aspect of boxing and instead of showing off his skills in offensive showcases, as we see with Gonzalez and Golovkin, Rigondeaux would rather box completely off the back foot, neutralising foes with footwork and attempting to take opponents out with single laser like straight left hands. It's pure boxing at it's finest but it can be dull and highly frustrating, especially given Rigondeaux's ability.
As frustrating as he is Rigondeaux really seems to have all the skills a fighter would wish for. He is an explosive puncher, has cat like reflexes, perfect balance, amazing timing and unbelievable speed. Sadly he has flaws that regard his mentality, which is certainly against putting on a show, and perceived issues regarding durability, having been dropped several times in his career. When he's feeling offensive Rigondeaux is a joy to watch and every bit as enjoyable as Roman Gonzalez, but sadly those moments are few and far between leaving many wishing to see more offense from the Cuban.
Rigondeaux is well known, even if he isn't well liked. The same cannot be said of Amagasa who is the OPBF Featherweight champion though is hardly known outside of his native Japan.
For those who don't know about about him Amagasa is a lanky fighter, stood at around 5'10” he was a taller Featherweight and, as he's dropping down to Super Bantamweight for this bout, will look stupidly tall for this bout against a much shorter foe. Sadly the Japanese fighter rarely makes the best use of his height and often comes in swinging wide shots rather than pumping out a sharp jab. If Amagasa had had a reliable and sharp jab he would be a real force on the world scene with his looping shots he often makes himself look beatable with recent foe Ryo Takenaka almost over-coming in his most recent bout.
Although technically limited Amagasa is an aggressive type of fighter with nasty power and he has scored some wonderful looking knockouts, most notable of which came against Koji Nagata back in 2009, courtesy of a brutal uppercut. Of course with his wing span and wide shots he has the ability to land from unusual angles, something that makes his power even more potent. As well as his power he has great work rate, seems to be tough and has real desire to reach the top.
We suspect, like everyone else, that Rigondeaux will be too good, too smart, too sharp and too quick for Amagasa. In fact even the Japanese fighter himself has suggested he only has 1% chance of upsetting that talented Cuban. Despite all the advantages there is a chance, albeit a very small one, that Amagasa may be able to connect with one of his wild swings. It's unlikely but possible that he could connect and send Rigondeaux down and out.
We're expecting an easy looking Rigondeaux win, either by wide decision or by a late stoppage, probably from a body shot. If Amagasa wins however he may well have notched up the upset of the year in one of the final bouts of the year.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Boxing really does seem to throw out some oddities. Often we get judging and refereeing that leaves a lot to be desired, at the end of the 2014 however we get an oddity by which two world titles will be unified despite the fact neither man involved in the bout goes into the contest as a current champion. The bout, which will be for the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles, has come about after both titles were vacated by Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr and although it's an oddity we suspect it'll be one of the most entertaining fights in recent memory.
The bout in question will see former 3-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (27-7-0-1, 10) battling against Japanese champion Go Odaira (11-3-3, 1). and as you can tell from their records neither man is a puncher though both are tough, active and all action with puncher numbers that many fighters could only dream of.
Originally the bout was set to be just for the IBF title, which Rodriguez had vacated a while back whilst considering his options for the future. Soon after Rodrgiuez then vacated the WBO belt with it becoming obvious that he was leaving the division due to weight struggle. That then allowed the WBO to put their title on the line giving a very peculiar situation, and one made stranger by the fact Rodriguez unified the titles with a victory over Takayama.
Whilst Takayama did lose to Rodriguez, in a genuine 2014 FOTY contender, he is a bonafide world class Minimumweight. He is universally regarded in the top 10 and may well be the stand out fighter currently without a title. That may seem hard to believe considering his record but Takayama has always shown a willingness to fight the best and, as a result, has suffered losses to elite level fighters. Not only has he been fighting the best but he has also shown a willingness to travel to the champions back yard where he has certainly had some misfortune go against him.
Going through the record of Takayama reads like a who's who of the top Minimumweights from the last 10 years. It includes the likes of Isaac Bustos, Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Of those men it was was only really Roman Gonzalez that dominated Takayama, and in fact had Takayama all over the place late in the bout. Not only doe these bouts prove Takayama belongs at the world level but they'll have also helped him develop as a fighter giving him rounds, and rounds, of top level experience.
At best Takayama is capable of boxing and moving, as he did wonderfully against Vergilio Silvano, though he often seems to get himself involved in fan friendly tear ups showing a real heart and determination to not only win but excite fans whilst winning. Sadly for a man who enjoys a brawl Takayama does lack real power but makes up for it in terms of his insane toughness, workrate and his refusal to just lose.
Whilst Takayama is well known by fans of the lower weights due to his bouts against the crem de la crem the same cannot be said for Odaira who is completely unknown to those who don't follow the Japanese scene.
Prior to this year Odaira was a genuine unknown, even for those who followed Japanese boxing religiously. He was 8-3-3 (1), had never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 8 rounds and, aside from a victory over Takashi Kunishige, and a loss to the then unproven Ryuji Hara, there was little on his record to talk about. This year however has been a genuine career year already for Odaira who has won the Japanese Minimumweight title, with a decision over Masashi Tada, and defended it twice by over-coming Yuma Iwahashi and Hiroya Yamamoto.
In all 3 of his wins this year Odaira has looked like a fighter who is improving and developing a real understand of what is it, to be a professional boxer. He seems to know his weaknesses and his strengths and has really began fighting like a man who knows who he needs to do to make the most of his career. That has seen him focussing on his natural speed, his movement and his energy. He now fights a lot like his manager Susumu Hanagata and is always on the move, always looking to pump out the jab and always trying to be busy. He knows he's not going to knock fighters out but knows there's more than one way to skin a cat and winning with crisp punching is just as good as winning by knockout. Notably the style did take Hanagata to a world title back in the 1970's.
Although Odaira has speed to burn he is stepping up in class, notably for this bout and really hasn't shared the ring with anyone quite like Takayama. That's not to say he can't hold his own but that he is stepping up massively for this bout and that can come with a lot of pressure, especially given that this will be his first near the top of a major show with fans around the world tuning in.
What we're expecting here is for both men to begin the contest with boxing in mind. Both will punch on the move and try to work their way in. It's what happens in the second stage of the contest that really decides how this bout goes. If Takayama can hold his own in terms of boxing with Odaira this could be a really high paced boxing contest with both throw copious amounts of jabs. Alternatively if Takayama feels he can't box the boxer then he'll bring the fight and we'll have Takayama trying to brawl with Odaira in what would make for one of the most action packed fights of the year.
If it does turn into a brawl then the action will be insane. Neither man will be expected to hurt the other and will feel they need to out work the other man leading to long and exciting trading sequences between two men. When they happen we suspect Takayama will get the upper hand and will do enough to impress the judges with his more varied assaults up close.
If the bout doesn't break out into a brawl we suspect Takayama takes a close and very competitive decision, if he can force the brawl and exchanges then he'll take home a clearer win.
We suspect Takayama will win and become the first 4-time world champion from Japan and the first Japanese fighter to claim a version of all 4 belts. If Odaira wins however then he has a serious claim for being the breakthrough fighter of the year, even surpassing Amnat Ruenroeng in that respect. It really would complete an amazing year for Yokohama man.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
For some fighters 2014 has been amazing. Fighters like Kosei Tanaka and Shohei Omori have had tremendous years with both men breaking out and making a name for themselves. Others however have had disappointing years, with Takashi Uchiyama (21-0-1, 17) probably having the most disappointing year of any active world champion. Yes Uchiyama is still the unbeaten WBA Super Featherweight king but he's a man who has lost a year of his career due to the fact opponents haven't wanted to fight him.
What should have been a year of greats fights for Uchiyama has instead been plagued with inactivity, opponents avoiding him and various other problems.
Thankfully the year won't be a total write off for the popular “KO Dynamite” and Uchiyama will fight this year, on December 31st. The bout comes exactly a year after his Uchiyama's last defense, a hard fought decision win over Daiki Kaneko, and sadly it sees the Japanese knockout artist fighting a relatively obscure opponent, Israel Hector Enrique Perez (27-2-1, 16).
We consider ourselves hardcore fans outside of just the Asian scene, though Perez is a fighter that, when the bout was announced, we genuinely knew next to nothing about. What we knew was that he was a 35 year old Argentinian who had scored only a single win of note, a stoppage over veteran Francisco Lorenzo.
Having known so little about Perez we have made an effort to get a read on him by watching footage of him in action. Unsurprisingly the footage doesn't impress us, in the slightest. He looks basic and predictable, there is little that actually stands out about him and although he seems to have power it's far from world class and seems more grinding than destructive. Possibly his best quality is his punch variety, though nothing appears to be particularly stunning.
A notable issue of Perez's is activity. He has fought just once in the last 12 months, just twice in the last 24 months and, amazingly, just 4 times in the last 4 years. At 35 years old that simply isn't active enough and it's certainly not the activity that should be rewarded with a world title fight. Interestingly however he is 28-0-1 in his last 29 fights date back more than 4 years. His level of competition has helped that unbeaten run though it's still impressive, at least on paper.
It's going to sound incredibly harsh but we're not sure that Perez would be able to crack the top 5 in Japan. He's certainly going to be an under-dog against both Uchiyama and Takashi Miura, it's hard to see him really testing Daiki Kaneko, Rikki Naito, Masayuki Ito or Shingo Eto. Interestingly, at the time of writing, Boxrec.com woulr rate Perez at #15 in Japan, if he were Japanese of course.
Whilst Perez is unknown we cannot say the same about Uchiyama who is one of the sports biggest punchers, most exciting fighters and most destructive.
At his best Uchiyama is probably the best Super Featherweight on the planet. He combines incredibly heavy hands with great technical ability, intelligent defence, surprising handspeed and freakish natural strength. Through his 22 career bouts only one man has been able to stand up physically to Uchiyama and that was compatriot Daiki Kaneko, who is one amazing physical specimen.
Aged 35 and coming in off a long lay off Uchiyama does leave us with some questions. What will his timing be like? Will he be sharp? And most importantly how much has he slid? He didn't look great against Kaneko and a year on we're unsure he would actually beat Kaneko if they were to have a rematch. We're also unsure if we'd pick Uchiyama in a rematch with Miura, who he beat back in 2011. What we're trying to say is Miura isn't in his prime any more. When he was in his pomp we'd have made him a clear favourite over anyone in the division now however we have apprehensions about him against two of his compatriots, and former victims.
If Uchiyama can recapture his form he likely stops Perez very early in this bout. If, however, Uchiyama isn't what he once was we suspect he'll win but not look impressive doing so, possibly stopping Perez in the later rounds. The only thing we can't see happening is Perez winning. The Argentinian has nothing that will make Uchiyama worried and if anything this is the perfect bout to see what Uchiyama has left and to let him vent his frustrations at the year he has had.
Sadly we suspect that if Uchiyama is less than impressive then he may actually retire from the sport. It'd be a shame but he deserves to go out unbeaten rather than suffer a late career defeat well after his prime, like he probably would if he's slipped further from how we last saw him.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe)
For the second day running Tokyo hosts a trio of world title bouts, this time around however only one really stands out. That's the WBA Light Flyweight title bout between current champion Alberto Rossel (32-8-0-1, 13) and Japan's unheralded Ryoichi Taguchi (20-2-1, 8). The bout lacks a big name but is a genuinely compelling contest between an experienced veteran in the best form of his career and a talented but yet under-exposed fighter looking for his chance to announce himself on the world stage.
Aged 36 Rossel is a true veteran and has been a professional since 1998. In his 41 fight career he has faced a who's who of the lower weights including Ivan Calderon, Brian Viloria, Luis Alberto Lazarte, Vusi Malingo and Hugo Fidel Cazares. All of whom have beaten him. Despite his age however he is now in the form of his career and has strung together a career high 8 successive wins. Notably however they have all come in Panama with with 6 of them coming by decision.
Although Rossel has been fighting at home he hasn't just been fighting scrubs. The first notable win form those 8 bouts was a decision over the then unbeaten Jose Alfredo Rodriguez to claim the WBA interim Light Flyweight title. As the “interim” champion Rossel defended the belt 4 times, defeating Karluis Diaz, Walter Tello, Jose Alfredo Zuniga and Gabriel Mendoza. On paper those wins were good but in reality they weren't as good as they looked with each one being a struggle, despite some wide scorecards. They told us as much about Rossel's as they did his strengths. His lack of power for example and his frustrating style which really isn't attractive.
Rossel was upgraded from “interim” champion to “regular” champion earlier this year, opening a space for Randy Petalcorin to claim the interim belt with a stoppage of Walter Tello who had previously pushed Rossel close.
Although limited Rossel has been viewed as central to the development of the sport in Preu. He is the countries first world champion and has likely helped the likes of Jonathan Maicelo, Ricardo Astuvilca, and David Zegarra all become fighters on, or around, the fringes of world class. With those fighters now coming through however Rossel has served his primary use and now it seems he is being sent out for a high paying gamble in Japan. If he wins he cements his title, if he loses he collects a payday and can think about retirement with some money in the bank.
At 28 years old Taguchi is a fighter coming into his prime however for many fans outside of Japan he is remembered solely as one of Naoya Inoue's opponents. That description is a really unfair one and Taguchi is much more than just a fighter who lost the Japanese Light Flyweight title to Inoue and in fact he gave Inoue the toughest fight of his career so far. (Note-this is being published prior to the WBO Super Flyweight title fight between Inoue and Omar Andres Narvaez)
Firstly Taguchi is a former Rookie of the year, winning the Light Flyweight crown in 2007 with a win over Sho Nakazawa, secondly he is a former Japanese Light Flyweight champion, beating Yuki Sano for the belt. Thirdly he is a damned good fighter and the only man, so far, to have stopped Yu Kimura, the current Japanese Light Flyweight champion.
Although not the biggest puncher or the most intimidating fighter at 108lbs Taguchi is a very talented individual who is tough, fast, brave and more than capable of holding his own with almost anyone in the division. Aside from the loss to Inoue he has only been beaten once, by close decision against Msasyoshi Segawa, and been held to a draw by Masayuki Kuroda, a former world title challenger. He's no mug even if he's isn't the most well known fighter or the most imposing.
Coming forward Taguchi applies intelligent pressure, boxes well behind the jab at distance and on in the inside he shows a great variety of punches. Among his best weapons up close are his body shots which all but crippled former foe Sansadka Portsanapon in their 2009 contest. On the back foot he can be a sharp counter puncher though does seem to be notably happier going forward.
We suspect this could be a scrappy contest with Rossel trying to make things messy whilst Taguchi ploughs forward trying to out work and beat up the champion. The scrappiness will be the only thing that makes this even semi competitive at times, however Rossel knows the old tricks and will slowly but surely frustrate Taguchi who will be forced to show a number of things that we've not really had to see from him. At the end however we don't think the judges will be as kind to Rossel's spoiling as they have been in Peru and after 12 rounds Taguchi will likely be crowned a world champion. Although we think the bout will be scored widely in favour of the Japanese fighter we wouldn't be shocked if he finished the bout marked up and frustrated with possibly a cut or two from accidental headclashes.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Kohei Kono Vs Norberto Jimenez-The Tough Boy looks to record his first defense and end a frustrating year on a high!
A lot of fighters have 2014 to be very frustrating. Some of those fighters have had their ruined by injuries, some by managements issues, some by legal issues and some by the issues out of their hands. One man falling into that final category is Kohei Kono (30-8, 13). Kono started the year brilliantly and recaptured the WBA Super Flyweight title all the way back in March with an 8th round KO of Denkaosan Kaovichit. It seemed that that win could kick start a career defining year for the “Tough Boy” but sadly those hopes were dashed when the WBA demanded that Kono defend his belt in a mandatory against Koki Kameda, a man who had never fought at the weight and was suspect to a ban by the Japanese Boxing Commission. With the JBC and the WBA at loggerheads for months Kono was effectively put on the shelf for issues completely out of his hands despite the best intentions of his promoter who had tried to make the fight.
Eventually the mandatory was deferred with an agreement for the two men to fight in 2015. By then however Kono had lost several months of his career, the memory of his win over Kaovichit was waning and any hope of a career defining year was out of the window.
Thankfully with issues sorted Kono has managed to get a fight arranged for the year. Sadly it's a disappointing one that we suspect many will turn their nose up at, and rightfully so. Rather than fighting a top guy in the division Kono will instead find himself up against the relatively unknown Norberto Jimenez (20-8-3, 10). A man so obscure that many hardcore fans won't even be aware of him, despite the fact he is unbeaten in 20 contests dating back more than 3 years.
Part of the reason Jimenez is unknown, despite his current streak of 18-0-2, is that he's been fighting solely at home in the Dominican Republic, and this will be his first bout away from home. Another part of the reason is that he's beaten nobody of note, in fact the only notable fighters that he's faced are Juan Carlos Payano, who beat him in 2 rounds way back in 2010, and Luis Hinjosa, who beat him by 6 round decision in 2011.
Although unknown outside of his homeland Jimenez has become a bit of a fan favourite with crowds at home. Known as “Meneito” he is flamboyant and like many flamboyant fighters he is also speedy. Sadly for him however his speed is rarely used well and his shots are looping, his footwork leaves a lot to be desired and a lack of power allows fighters to walk through a lot of his shots. Worst of all however is his defense, or lack of defense and he can often be seen leaving himself wide open any number of shots especially when trading with his chin in the air and his arms flailing in the air.
Against a low level of fighter, such as those Jimenez has been up against, he can get away with his numerous issues, he is however taking a massive step up to fight Kono and if Kono is out to make a mark then we may well see Jimenez finished off early.
Kono is known for his toughness and although he has been down in the past he has never been stopped, and has rarely even been halted in his tracks. What has happened to him however is that fighters have fought to his weaknesses. Kono, for all his toughness, is relatively slow of foot and can be found chasing as opposed to cutting the ring off, he can be out pointed by fighters with the energy to box and move and those with reaches that keep him at bay.
In a boxing based contest Kono is beatable. In a fighter however Kono will give anyone at 115lbs a real nightmare. He's not just tough but also possess genuine power, something that isn't really reflected in the stats on his record but is shown by his notable stoppages in recent years against Kaovichit and Tepparith Kokietgym. Not only has he stopped those two men but he has also recorded knockdowns against fighters like Liborio Solis and Tomas Rojas, two world class fighters in their own right.
Although not the sharpest fighter in the division Kono is a solid all-rounder. He can be beaten with intelligent speed and movement but rarely do fighters beat him without getting into trouble at some point and without being tough fighters. We suspect that Jimenez will be trouble early on and Kono will find a home for his hurtful right hand on the chin of the challenger. If Jimenez wants to fight like he usually does then Kono will walk him down and take him out somewhere in the middle of the fight.
There is a chance Jimenez will be much better here than he has looked in the past, however we honestly don't think he is. We think he's been fighting to the level of his opponents but rather never been given a chance to develop with fights to make the most of his natural speed. Speed is Kono's weakness but Jimenez doesn't have the boxing knowledge to make the most of it against an opponent like Kono.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe)
In boxing we tend to see a fighter “managed” to a world title whilst being “promoted” in a way that generates a lot of money for both the fighter and his team without needing to take a lot of risks. In the west this is the general idea behind the match making philosophy which has, at times, lead to under-developed challengers, prospects who have failed to reach their potential. We've seen it numerous times in the past and we will continue to see it in the future.
In some countries things are a little bit different. A prospect tipped for the top is pushed hard with the intention of shaking up the boxing world, not merely being managed to a title fight years down the line. It's this fast rising mentality which has been behind Naoya Inoue's (7-0, 6) incredibly 7 fight career. Yes he has only fought 7 times as a professional yet has already achieved more than men with multiple times as many fights as he has.
Not happy with just winning a world title in his 6th bout Inoue will attempting to shake up the boxing world again as he attempts to become a 2-weight world champion in just his 8th professional bout. Again surpassing many fighters who fight their whole career in the hope of just fighting for a world title. Not only will Inoue be hoping to become a 2-weight champion in his coming bout, on December 30th, but he will be taking on the longest reigning champion in the division, Omar Andres Narvaez (43-1-2, 23).
For those who don't know about the 21 year old Inoue we really need to ask where have you been the last couple of years? The youngster was tipped for stardom from the moment he partook in his pro-test, bashing up the then Japanese Light Flyweight champion Masayuki Kuroda. In his first bout he stopped Filipino national champion Crison Omayao, then took out Thailand's Ngaoprajan Chuwatana. After those 2 fights it was so obvious he was on the fast track to the top and in fight #4 he won the Japanese national Light Flyweight title, beating the then world ranked Ryoichi Taguchi by 10 round decision. A fight later he had added the OPBF title and announced his intention of winning a world title in very next fight.
Inoue, unlike many fighters who talk of grandeur, wasn't just talking the talk and in fight #6 he stopped Adrian Hernandez to claim the WBC Light Flyweight title. Whilst some fighters may get “cheap” stoppages this certainly wasn't one, this wasn't the referee interjecting to be part of the fight, instead Inoue had broken Hernandez and made the Mexican quit. The physical strength, power, speed and technical ability of Inoue was just too much for Hernandez, despite the fact Inoue was himself suffering from cramps due to excessive weight loss.
It was expected that Inoue would move up to 112lbs immediately after the win over Hernandez. Instead he did what champions should do and sealed his reign with a defense of the belt, stopping Thailand's Samartlek Kokietgym in the 11th round of their bout. It was the least impressive performance of Inoue's career though was still a dominant one.
Now the youngster will be skipping Flyweight to battle against Narvaez at 115lbs. A weight that his team, including father-trainer Shingo Inoue, believes is his natural fighting weight. The step up in weight class is a major one as is the step up in quality. Hernandez was a credible world champion however Narvaez is a 2-weight world champion who has ruled at both Flyweight and Super Flyweight amassing a huge number of defenses. Not only is Narvaez a real champion but he is a man who's only loss so far has come against a much bigger man in Nonito Donaire, and even Donaire failed to ever really hurt the significantly smaller Narvaez.
The reason Narvaez has gone so far in the sport is that he is very well schooled, very fit, physically strong and surprisingly fast. He's not a big puncher or the most imposing fighting in the division but he is one of the best out there. Defensively he can be as tight as anyone giving next to no target for a fighter, as shown in his bout with Donaire, whilst offensively his fast hands and careful counter-combinations can be grinding and chip away at an opponent. Worse yet for opponents is the fact that he's a southpaw, making him tricky as well as skilled, tough and fast.
For many Japanese fans this will be the first time they've gotten to see Narvaez however it's not the first time he's fought a Japanese fighter. Just last year he became the first man to stop the tough Hiroyuki Hisataka, who visited Narvaez's homeland of Argentina and was halted in 10 rounds. That was one of 3 stoppages Narvaez has in his last 4 bouts however he's really not a puncher and looking at those results in isolation do give a misleading image of the Argentinian fighter.
Aged 39 Narvaez is incredibly old for a Super Flyweight. He has been in world title fights since 2002 and has to be on the slide physically. That however wasn't seen last time out when he defeated Felipe Orucuta. The result might have been a majority decision on paper but what Pat Russell was watching is a mystery to us as it seemed a clear, yet competitive, win for the Argentinian who struggled for a few rounds before adapting and taking a clear win.
Going into this bout there are a lot of questions for both men to answer. For Narvaez we do have to wonder what his 39 year old body is capable of, whether he is travelling to Japan for a payday and how he can cope with a fast, strong and powerful youngster. On the other hand we need to wonder how Inoue copes with a man capable of frustrating him with a shell like defense, how he copes with the new weight division and how he copes with a fighter who is as good as Narvaez.
If Inoue is as good as he has looked so far, and as good as we think, we suspect he will manage to out work and out muscle the Argentinian. If Inoue isn't as sharp at Super Flyweight as he's looked in his Light Flyweight bouts, or if he lets his defense slip, as he has done at times in the past, he may be in trouble. We suspect Inoue is the real deal and will show it by using his fresh legs to keep the shorter fighter at range early on, racking up the rounds and making Narvaez move to plan B. When Narvaez falls behind we suspect he'll become more offensive and that will suit Inoue who would likely love a tear up with Narvaez believing himself to be the stronger and more powerful fighter.
We think if Inoue gets the better of the action up close Narvaez will then turn to plan C, one based on survival and allow Inoue to take the win without running a risk of being stopped by the Japanese youngster.
Our guess on the result, Inoue UD12. And with that win he'd have to be the front runner for the 2014 Fighter of the Year.
(Image courtesy of http://www.ohashi-gym.com)
There are a lot of fights left this year but possibly the most exciting of those is at Light Flyweight as the always fun to watch Akira Yaegashi (20-4, 10) attempts to become a 3-weight world champion and over-come Mexico's Pedro Guevara (23-1-1, 15) in a bout for the vacant WBC Light Flyweight title. A title which was last held by Yaegashi's stablemate Naoya Inoue, who vacated the belt to campaign at Super Flyweight.
Last time out we saw Yaegashi suffer the first stoppage loss of his career as he was beaten into submission by the exceptional Roman Gonzalez. That bout saw the best from both men though unfortunately for Yaegashi it always seemed that Gonzalez was too strong, too powerful, too sharp and too good. Yaegashi tried his best against though was left a broken fighter who seemed to realise that he was too small and light punching to really compete against the best men at 112lbs.
For those who haven't seen much of Yaegashi he is the sort of fighter that fans should really appreciate. He's speedy and talented though unlike many other speedy fighters he seems to enjoy a fight just as much as the fans. His propensity for a tear up has seen him in thrilling contests with his 2011 bout against Thailand's Pornsawan Porpramook being a FOTY contender just like his 2012 ruckus with compatriot Kazuto Ioka. Both of those bouts showed not only Yaegashi's willingness to fight a war but also the way he seems to force a war, whether it's in his best interest or not.
At Flyweight Yaegashi's main problem was that he lacked genuine fire power. In his 5 title bouts at the weight he scored just a single stoppage, albeit a really good one against Odilon Zaleta. Sadly we suspect that if Yaegashi had power to match his and toughness he would be fighter celebrated worldwide rather than a man only truly appreciated by Japanese fans and the hardcore boxing fans.
Of course it's not just the style and wars that fans enjoy but also Yaegashi's willingness to test himself against the best. It's that willingness to fight all comers that has seen him battle with the likes of Gonzalazs, Ioka, Porpramook, Edgar Sosa, Eagle Den Junlaphan and Toshiyuki Igarashi. That's being seen again here where he's gone from being beaten up by Gonzalez to taking on the dangerous Guevara rather than fight a confidence rebuilding bout against a weaker foe.
So on to the Mexican who at 25 years old is coming into his prime and will be hoping to become a world champion at the second time of asking, having previously fallen short in an IBF title fight with Filipino Johnriel Casimero. In that fight Guevara was stepping up notably in class and it showed early on when he was dropped in the opening round though he did warm to the task and managed to give Casimero a close fight, though not as close as the scorecards indicated.
The bout with Casimero is easily the biggest bout that Guevara has been involved in. He has however been up against several other notable names including Mario Rodriguez, Raul Garcia, Karlius Diaz and Jorle Estrada and beaten all of them. Notably he has faced Rodriguez twice, drawing in their first meeting before dominating in the rematch with a very clear decision. The improvement between those two Rodriguez bouts was clear and on the whole Guevara has been a fighter improving regularly.
Stylistically Guevara shows traits of the great Ricardo Lopez. He boxes, moves, throws sharp and correct shots and looks comfortable on the back foot, something we rarely see in a Mexican fighter. Unlike most Mexican fighters he looks happier at range and boxing rather than up close and brawling. That doesn't he can't stand there and fight but it's not his style or his strength. At a distance he has a nice variety of shots with his left hook to the body, jab and straight right being the key shots in his arsenal.
From what we've seen of both guys we suspect this bout will be won by the man who can control the distance and pacing of the bout. A slow bout fought at range favours Guevara without a doubt. If the Mexican can use his reach and straight shots to stop Yaegashi in his tracks then the title will be going back to Mexico. For Yaegashi to win he has to turn this into a fight, slip the jab and unload his trademark fast flurries on the inside. The Japanese fighter has to make life uncomfortable for the Mexican visitor and if he can do that we suspect we will see Yaegashi becoming just the second Japanese fighter in history to win world titles in 3 weights. If Yaegashi can't get inside then he'll follow in the footsteps of Kazuto Ioka and Hozumi Hasegawa who both failed in their attempts to become 3 weight world champions this year.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
This year ends with a bang in Japan with 8 world title fights over the spaces of 2 days. OF those 8 bouts only one doesn't feature a Japanese born fighter, that is the WBC Lightweight title fight between the Venezuelan born-Japanese based Jorge Linares (37-3, 24) and Mexico's Javier Prieto (24-7-2, 18). The bout is for the vacant title and the Teiken managed Linares will be hoping to becomea 3-weight world champion, adding the WBC Lightweight title to previous reigns at Featherweight and Super Featherweight.
As a professional Linares has been adopted by Japanese fans. Of his 40 previous fights 22 have been in Japan, he lives in Japan, speaks Japanese and has long been a favourite of Japanese fight fans. In the ring he has shown traits that Japanese fans are familiar with, in fact in many ways he is similar to Japan's very own Hozumi Hasegawa. Like Hasegawa he has shown frailty, being dropped numerous times, he has fantastic handspeed, throws lovely combinations and is amazingly well skilled.
In the ring Linares is one of the sports most beautiful boxers to watch. Offensively he has it all. Sadly however his offensive brilliance isn't matched by his toughness which is questionable, at best. All 3 of his losses to date have come by stoppage. One of those was a shocking opening round loss to Juan Carlos Salgado in one of the major upsets of 2009, one was a bloody 11th round TKO loss to Antonio DeMarco in a bout Linares looked in control of whilst the third was a cuts loss to Sergio Thompson. In all 3 losses it's seemed like Linares broke when he was hit back and questions remain not just about his toughness but also his heart and stamina.
Whilst it may seem silly to question his stamina there is an amazing stat regarding Linaes, he has never gone 12 rounds, His longest bout to date was the loss to DeMarco. It was the only time in 40 fights that Linares has gone beyond the 10th round of a fight. For all the offensive qualities he has, and his experience, there are still a lot of questions that we don't know the answer to.
Although there questions about Linares it's fair to say he is a much more known quantity than Preito who, in the eyes of many, is getting a very undeserved opportunity. Aged 27 Prieto is slightly younger than Linares though hasn't fought any where near the same level of competition.
Regarded as a puncher Prieto is dangerous, at least at the lower levels. Sadly however it's hard to know just how good he actually is. His best win, a decision over Vicente Mosquera, looks like an anomaly and he has failed to beat anyone else of note, losing to the likes of Ali Chebah, Edgar Puerta and Roberto Ortiz whilst being held to back-to-back draw by Ivan Cano. Those results make us question just how legitimate Preito's power actually is.
As well questions regarding Prieto's power and credentials we also aren't convinced by his skills or durability. In the ring he looks big and powerful but very slow, incredibly basic. It seems he has gotten as far as he has with a lot of luck as technically he does very little impressively and often stalks with out cutting the ring off or applying real pressure. In 33 fights he has never shown real world class ability or the potential to ever be world class.
From what we've seen of the two men Prieto has just 1 thing Linares doesn't have, the proven ability to go 12 rounds. That's something that the Mexican has done 5 times, winning 2 of those bouts, drawing two and losing one. That advantage however, may be his sole advantage of Linares.
In our view this is a stylistic dream for Linares, fighting a slower, wilder, open opponent who is there to be tagged clean at will repeatedly. The one danger Linares has is being caught by a wild shot that either cuts him or leaves him ready to be finished. In all honesty however Linares shouldn't get caught by something like that from Prieto who is likely to be kept at range by Linares footwork. What we're expecting is for Linares to fight at his pace, if not a little slower than usual, box and move, whilst making Prieto look silly for 12 rounds. Yes we're suspect a 12 round decision win for Linares. The Venezuelan may have a few hairy moments if he gets complacent.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
What a difference a year makes. This time last year we were all raving about Haitian sensation Adonis “Superman” Stevenson (24-1, 20). The Canadian southpaw had had a break through year avenging his sole loss by stopping Darnell Boone, claiming the WBC Light Heavyweight world title with an opening round blow out of Chad Dawson and defended his title with wins over Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew. He went 4-0 (4) for the year and seemed on a collision course with fellow big puncher Sergey Kovalev, a man who appeared to be his natural rival for divisional supremacy at Light Heavyweight.
This year we've seen Stevenson go from hero to zero. The bout with Kovalev, that seemed all but signed, vanished after Stevenson signed with “advisor” Al Haymon and since then he has fought just once, taking a less than impressive decision over American based Polish fighter Andrzej Fonfara, who actually dropped Stevenson in round 9. Not only has Stevenson been inactive but we've seen Kovalev show the traits that we thought Steveson had and the Russian went on to beat the division's other top fighter Bernard Hopkins.
To end the year Stevenson will be getting into the ring with a Russian opponent. Sadly it's neither of the two, Kovalev or Artur Beterbiev, that we would have wanted to see him in with. Instead it's going to be the strong but very basic Dmitry Sukhotsky (22-2, 16). A man who looked very poor last time he was in North America, losing a near shut out to Cornelius White, and in his last fight, scoring an unconvincing win over Joey Vegas in Russia.
Last year Stevenson looked explosive, destructive and genuinely scary. He showed sheer aggression against Boone in genuinely beating him into submission. Perfect timing against Dawson who he flattened with a perfect shot. Brilliant boxing against Cloud who ended up beaten mentality and physically. And no fear against Bellew who, as often does, talked a good fight whilst being unable to deliver. This year, and now at 37 years old, he looks like yesterday's story. The bout with Fonfara, a supposed showcase, was a struggle with Stevenson fighting as if he expected an easy win rather than fighting like a man who wanted to strengthen his position with an impressive performance.
At his best, which we may well have already seen, Stevenson was a powerful puncher with solid and under-rated boxing ability, surprisingly quick movement and impressive handspeed. His only question marks were regarding his stamina and chin with his sole loss being a shock knockout to Boone in their first meeting. This year however question marks regarding his heart for the game, his age and training have all cropped up. It may well be that after reaching pinnacle last year Stevenson thinks he's still the man, sadly his avoidance of Kovalev have seen many feel he's more of a mouse. It's a shame as he is talented and has all the traits to be a genuine star and scores the types of victories we all love to see, vicious knockouts and beatdowns.
In Sukhotsky really do have a basic fighter who fights like many fighters from the Soviet bloc. His work, at it's best, comes at mid range where he can get his jab landing to set up his powerful straight though he can hold his own, at a lower level at least, on the inside. Where he excels is in his physical strength and power. He's not explosive but he has the thudding and hurtful power which does damage every time he lands, as seen when he disfigured Eduard Gutknecht in one of his biggest wins to date.
He is however very slow, basic and his movement is rigid. He needs to set his feet before punching, can be left chasing opponents and at times just looks like a very simple fighter. This was most notable against White who completely out boxed him, out moved him and out landed him in humiliatingly one-sided contest. That loss however was a stark contrast to Sukhotsky's other loss, a rather enjoyable battle with Juergen Braehmer which saw Sukhotsky coming up short on the cards after a compelling late charge at the then WBO champion. The Braehmer bout however did come some 5 years ago and in all honesty it does feel like he's missed out on ever reaching his potential.
Sukhotsky has the ability to make this tough for Stevenson if the Haitian puncher isn't at his best. If, however, Stevenson boxes on his toes, makes the most of his sharp and hurtful jab and fights at range he could do a similar job here as he did to Cloud. If Stevenson's lost a little bit of speed however there is a chance Sukhotsky can drag him into a battle, smother the champion's power a little bit and make things difficult for the home town fighter.
We suspect Stevenson will come out victorious here but we'd not be shocked if his year from bad to worse and that he ends up looking bad even in victory.
If there is one country that no visiting fighter seems to enjoy it's Thailand. The atmosphere might not be vicious but the over-all conditions are, as fights are fought in blistering heat, humid air and often in temporary out door arenas that are certainly not what visiting fighters are used to. The conditions are set in the favour of the domestic fighters as much as they can be and very few fighters will have fought in anything resembling the conditions of a typical Thai show.
Outside of Asia we may actually find that Argentina is the next most hostile venue for fighters. Unlike Thailand fans are willing to show their dislike of a result, even a clean and well earned stoppage as seen in Johnriel Casimero's excellent win over Luis Alberto Lazarte. Unfortunately for WBA interim Flyweight champion Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep (34-2, 30) it's Argentina that he's heading this week for his next bout as he battles against the very talented Juan Carlos Reveco (34-1, 18) in what, on paper, looks to be a truly tremendous bout between to talented fighters in boxing's toughest division.
Reveco enters the bout as the WBA "regular" champion and has, in terms of results, been on fire in recent years with a 17 fight unbeaten run. Those 17 fights have seen the Argentinian go 11-0 (5) in world and interim world title fights, a very impressive streak. Sadly those numbers to belie the fact that some of his opposition has been weak to say the least with fighters like Julian Rivera, Jean Piero Perez, Ronald Barrera and Ulises Lara really not fight to be in world title fights.
Although Reveco's opposition hasn't been great that's not to say he's actually a bad fighter. His win over Masayuki Kuroda did prove that he was a capable fighter and his body shots, which have been shown repeatedly over his career, have shown real world class skills as has his over-all boxing ability which is often crisp and intelligent. Sadly those world class glimpses have been few and far between since he moved to Flyweight and last time out he was fortunate to retain his title against a very spirited Felix Alvarado and had the Alvarado/Reveco bout been on neutral territory we'd likely be discussing Yodmongkol fighting against Alvarado.
As for Yodmongkol we're not fully sold on the Thai. In his break out win over Koki Eto the Thai looked very smart and neutralised Eto's aggressiveness and work rate. Yodmongkol slowly but surely broke Eto, who put on a great effort but was stopped late despite his fighting heart. Sadly though Yodmongkol looked awful, and we mean awful, when he battled against Takuya Kogawa who appeared to be very harshly done by when he battled the Thai, who on that day looked lazy and fought with contempt towards his Japanese foe.
At his best Yodmongkol is a defensively tight fighter with sharp and accurate shots, as he showed against Eto, at his worst however he's a lazy fighter who can be kept behind his own defensive work as opposed to really taking the fight to his opponent. At home he can often get away with that strategy away from home though it's a dangerous one and could well be the undoing of a 28 fight winning streak that dates back a little over 4 years. Sadly for Yodmongkol many of those wins have come against lesser foes and in many ways his wins over Kogawa and Eto are his stand out wins whilst other victories, over Crison Omayao and Jack Amisa, certainly look like they have come against regional journeymen.
What we're suspecting to see here is a really good battle against two world class, though not elite, level Flyweight fighters. In a world where we have just 1 title this would be an eliminator style bout and it would show as both men show their desire. That desire will be here as both men attempt to break the other in what we suspect will be a very entertaining battle up close between two talented fighters. Unfortunately for the Thai the odds are he will need a stoppage to get the win and we don't see him getting that against a tough Argentinian who has shown the ability to grit it out where needed. Despite that Yodmongkol will almost certainly give him a lot of questions through 12 very tough rounds.
Note-This bout has been re-arranged several times since this preview was originally written.
(Image courtesy of Thairec.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.