One of the biggest surprises this year, at least in Asia, was Sho Kimura's (15-1-2, 8) [木村翔] historic win in China this past July against Zou Shiming to claim the WBO Flyweight title. Going in to that bout no one outside of the Japanese domestic fans knew anything much about Kimura who went over to China and stopped the local hero, and in turn became a bit of a celebrity in China.
This coming Sunday Kimura makes his first defense of that title as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter, and former WBC champion, Toshiyuki Igarashi (23-2-3 12) [五十嵐俊幸] in a mandatory defense of the title, and a very interesting all-Japanese world title bout.
The 29 year old Kimura has been a professional since April 2013 and was surprisingly stopped in 75 seconds on is debut, by Shosuke Oji. He would then reel off 5 low key decision wins on the lower level of the Japanese domestic scene before suffering back to back draws to have a record of 5-1-2 after 8 bouts. It was hardly the stellar record of a fighter going places but since then he has impressively reeled off 10 wins. They include not only the shock win over Shiming but also a win over the then touted Masahiro Sakamoto, a win that saw Kimura claim the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title. Sadly the wins over Sakamoto and Shiming are the only ones of any note at all on Kimura's record, and both of those came about 8 months apart.
Watching Sakamoto we see a relatively basic fighter, but one who looks very strong. He has a solid jab, a tight guard and good work rate, whilst continually pressing forward and looking to push opponents backwards. His desire is key, and was what showed against Shiming as his hunger kept him pushing Shiming back and finally breaking the Chinese fighter. It wasn't just Shiming where we saw his pressure over-come a more skilled fighter but also against Sakamoto, in a bout that saw Kimura just keep coming and coming and coming. Considering his debut loss his career has changed around and he now looks capable of taking a shot and walking forward.
Whilst Kimura is a new guy on the block so to speak, having only been a champion since beating Shiming in July, the same can't be said for the 33 year old Igarashi who was a stand out amateur before his debut back in 2006. As an amateur Igarashi went 72-11, competed at the 2004 Olympics, where he lost to Endalkachew Kebede of Ethiopia in the first round of the competition, and when he turned professional there was very high expectations of him. Due to his amateur background he debuted in 6 rounders and ran up a 6-0-1 (5) record before fighting for, and winning, the Japanese interim Flyweight. Sadly that unbeaten run would end soon afterwards, with Igarashi losing to future world champion Tomonobu Shimizu in a bout for the full version of the Japanese Flyweight title.
Following the loss to Shimizu we saw Igarashi go on a bit of a roll, winning 10 straight. They included a 3rd round TKO win over Takayasu Kobayashi for the Japanse title, a successful defense against Kenji Yoshida and a career defining split decision win over Sonny Boy Jaro for the WBC Flyweight title in 2012. Sadly though Igarashi's reign failed to set the world alight, taking a razor thin decision over Nestor Daniel Narvaez, the younger brother of Omar Andres Narvaez, and then losing in his second defense to Akira Yaegashi, who he had beaten a number of times in the amateur ranks. That loss was put down to over-confidence and an injury but really begin the start of the end for Igarashi as a top fighter, and since then he has gone 6-0-2 (3) but not looked particularly good during that run. In fact that run has been horribly plagued by head clashes, cuts and technical decision, including 2 technical decision wins and 2 technical draws.
At his best Igarashi was a very good fighter, technically the Linear champion, but never felt like an elite fighter. He was skilled, a solid puncher and fast, but clumsy, open and could be out worked. His southpaw stance had it's uses, but often caused clashes of heads and that has been even more apparently in recent years. Part of that has been due to a recurrent shoulder injury whilst others have been due to his inability to keep fights at a distance and last time out a headclash caused a really serious eye injury, an injury that will be a target for Kimura.
Kimura might not be anything special, and in fact his title reign is likely not going to last long, but we do see him getting past Igarashi here. If he can handle the southpaw stance of Igarashi he will give the challenger real fits with his pressure and determination alone. Igarashi will have moments, but unless he can crack the chin of Kimura we don't see him winning. Instead we see Kimura's pressure paying off in the second half and the champion retaining the title, narrowly.
Interesting the winner of this will be a target for a number of other Japanese fighters, including former 2-weight champion Kosei Tanaka, current Japanese champion Masayuki Kuroda, the all action Takuya Kogawa, former Kimura foe Masahiro Sakamoto and WBC champion Daigo Higa.
The first of three world title bouts on New Year's Eve this year will see IBF Minimumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (8-0, 6) [京口 紘人] defending his title against talented Nicaraguan Carlos Buitrago (30-2-1-1, 17). For Kyoguchi the bout will be his first defense whilst Buitrago will be looking to claim a world title fight, following a trio of previous set backs in Asia. The bout could, potentially, set the stage for a very interesting 2018 at Light Flyweight, with 3 titles being fought for on this show, and will certainly help move the division forward whilst also giving fans a very exciting stylistic match up.
The talented Kyoguchi was a former amateur stand out before making his debut in April 2016. By the end of the year he had raced out to 5-0 (5) and looked like a force to be reckoned with, thanks to his ultra aggressive pressure style, his heavy hands and his bob and weave style. That style took him to OPBF glory in February this year, when he stopped veteran Armando de la Cruz, and later helped him record his first defense, with a 12 round decision over Jonathan Refugio, who spent much of the bout in survival mode.
The win over Refugio did, to some extent, expose Kyoguchi as not being as destructive as he originally looked, but left no one questioning his stamina, aggression or ability to come on strong. Early on Refugio had had success, but had taken a lot during those early stages to stay away in the middle rounds and essentially do little more than survive late on, whilst Kyoguchi pressed forward. That defense was followed by another 12 round victory for Kyoguchi, who out pointed the teak tough Jose Argumedo in a relatively frustrating and sloppy affair, that saw neither man shine despite Kyoguchi claiming the IBF title with the win.
With a pair of 12 now under his belt the exciting man from the Watanabe gym now looks to get back to his destructive best and get his first defense as he takes on the talented visitor. To win he will need to show a much more disciplined performance than he did last time. He will need to be fully aware of the Nicaraguan's slippery skills, smart movement and ability to box at range. Kyoguchi will have to use the intelligent pressure that worked so well early in his career and unleash the devastating combinations and body shots that convinced his team to push him to a world title fight after just 15 months as a professional.
Aged 26 Buitrago has long been tipped as the the successor to Roman Gonzalez as the face of Nicaraguan boxing. He debuted aged 16, way back in 2008 and went 27-0-0-1 (16) before getting is first world title fight, in November 2013. During that run Buitrago had beaten the likes of Yader Escobar and Julian Yedras and had scored wins in Mexico and the US whilst developing a reputation as a special fighter in the gym. He was a fluid, gorgeous to watch boxer, with under rated power, smart movement and lovely hand speed with an excellent sharp jab and nice variety to his shots.
It was in November 2013 that Buitrago would get his first world title fight, and would fight to a draw in the Philippines against the then WBO champion Merlito Sabillo, with many feeling the Nicaraguan had been robbed of the win and the title. Despite the set back Buitrago remained a leading contender and just a fight later he took on Knockout CP Freshmart in a bout for the interim WBA Minimumweight title, losing a controversial decision to the Thai. A third shot would come just a couple of fights later, when he got a rematch with Knockout, and fought to a wide decision loss in a very lacklustre performance.
Since his second loss to Knockout we've not really seen anything from Buitrago to suggest he's a top fight any more. He scored a quick blow out over Roger Collado in May 2016 and an 8 round decision over Noe Medina back in October 2016, meaning he's been out of the ring for 14 months coming into this bout! It's also worth noting that his last recorded weight was 111¾lbs, well above the Minimumweight limit, and he has been rumoured to be struggling to get down to 105lbs for this bout.
At his best, if Buitrago can be at his best, he could be a real nightmare for Kyoguchi with his jab, movement, toughness and boxing brain. Sadly though all signs are that Buitrago isn't going to be at his best. He has been inactive, he's said to be struggling with weight and given his performance in the second bout with Knockout you have to wonder whether he has either outgrown the division or just isn't going to become the fighter we had all hoped. If Buitrago is anything short of his best Kyoguchi will likely steam roll him with pressure, combinations and body breaking shots to the midsection. If Buitrago is at his best then there is a chance he'll take the title back home with him, with a decision, but we're expecting to see an off Buitrago getting dragged into a war, and being broken down in the middle rounds by the vicious Kyoguchi.
It's fair to say that 2017 has been an amazing year for boxing fans, who have had so many great fights that year has over-delivered in many ways. There has been dodgy decisions, farcical contests and all the negatives we associate with the sport, but also a lot of amazing fights. We get some more of those on December 31st with the pick of the bunch being a Light Flyweight unification bout between WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi (26-2-2, 12) and IBF champion Milan Melindo (37-2, 13). The bout could well shake up Fighter of the Year category and will almost certainly see us with a unified champion at 108lbs, a division which many have been sleeping on in recent years.
Of the two men it's Taguchi who is the more distinguished champion. The 31 year old from the Watanabe gym has held the WBA title since the end of 2014, beating Alberto Rossel for the belt on December 31st. Since then he has racked up 6 defenses, though shown real inconsistencies during his reign. He has dominated the likes of Kwanthai Sithmorseng, Juan Jose Landaeta and Ryo Miyazaki, struggled past Luis De La Rose and Carlos Canizales and looked beatable in both of those fights, whilst impressing earlier this year when he stopped Robert Barrera.
Although a bit of an enigma no one can argue with Taguchi's ability. When he's got his head on and is in the right mood he's an absolute night mare to fight with a very high output, freakish physical stature for a Light Flyweight, standing at over 5'5”, a solid toughness and a real air of confidence. He's not the most skilled but with his long reach, durability and work rate he's going to be a handful for anyone, and even gave Naoya Inoue his toughest bout to date, taking several rounds from the “Monster” back in 2013.
Filipino fighter Melindo only won his title this past May, in his third world title fight, but is arguably one of the top contenders for Fighter of the Year in 2017, with a win over Taguchi possibly earning him the award. He won the title in Japan, when he stopped Akira Yaegashi in 165 seconds, a divisional record, and made his first defense in September when he defeated top South African Hekkie Budler in a 2017 Fight of the Year candidate. Prior to those two wins Melindo was a bit of a nearly man, having put up good efforts in losses to Juan Francisco Estrada and Javier Mendoza and having scored notable wins over Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Saul Juarez, Martin Tecuapetla, Carlos Tamara and Muammad Rachman. His resume was on par that of a world champion, but without a win in a big one.
Having gotten his “big win” and a world title the question now is whether Melindo can continue to build on his success. From a technical stand point Melindo is arguably the best fighter at 108lbs. He's got a very, very high ring IQ, is a brilliant counter puncher and understands the ring fantastically. He gauges distances really well, has great timing and knows how to control the distance. From a fight fan perspective he's a real thinking man's fighter, but sadly that comes at a cost and he can be out worked, he can seem lazy and can be swarmed, though he does hit harder than his record suggests and one of his counters can turn the bout on it's head.
This bout really does look like it will be an intriguing clash of styles. It has Taguchi's high work rate, and relative defensive openness against Melindo's low work rate but accurate and smooth counter punching. It will pit two world class fighters against each other and will, potentially, see one walk out as a unified WBA/IBF champion, and the man to beat in the division.
With home advantage we do favour Taguchi, who with a win would spoil Melindo's year, but a win for Melindo is certainly not out of the question. Either man can win, and it is a true 50-50 bout, with a feeling of being something very, very special to close out the year.
In the last 12 months we've seen the Super Flyweight division get a significant amount of international attention, with notable fights in the division taking place outside of the usual countries for “the little men”. This has included Super Flyweight world title bouts taking place in Australia, England, Northern Ireland and the US, and the huge success of the “Superfly” show on HBO. Sadly though that success hasn't made life easy for Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12). The Japanese fighter as defended his WBO title twice this year, and will make his 7th total defense on December 30th, but has seen top contenders rule themselves out of bouts with him in early 2018.
Rather than continue to battle the politics of the sport Inoue has stated he is after big challengers, and this coming Saturday he will likely fight at 115lbs for the final time. That bout will see him face French challenger Yoan Boyeaux (41-4-0-1, 26), with the visitor looking to secure a career best win, and Inoue looking to bid farewell to the division in style.
For those who have lived under a rock the last few years Inoue is the new face of Japanese boxing. He's a fighter who combines elite skills with frightening power, lighting speed and a desire to both put on a show and challenge himself. He raced through the rankings at break neck speed, winning a Japanese title in his 4th fight, an OPBF title in his 5th and his first world title in his 6th bout. After just a single defense of his first world title he jumped up 2 divisions and blitzed Omar Narvaez to become a 2-division champion and has since gone 6-0 (5) in Super Flyweight world title defenses.
Dubbed the “Monster” Inoue is a frightening in the ring. He's a naturally strong and powerful guy but doesn't rely on that natural strength to win. Instead that power and physicality has become part of a fighter who is very highly skilled and incredibly fluid. He throws some of the best combinations in the sport, can throw some great counter shots and although an offensive force he is also able to fight on the back foot, even as an aggressive fighter on the back foot. Every fight he seems to show something new and he has has added things like the ability to switch to his game in recent years.
Looking for flaws with Inoue is hard, but there is some. He is sometimes unable to transition defense to offense, and is sometimes happier to see out his opponents assaults before returning fire, rather than using his counter punching skills. He can also switch off and although he is developing the mental side of his game there are times when he looks bored and frustrated, which included his last bout when he had clearly gotten sick of Antonio Nieves running away from him in round 6. If he can stay mentally sharp there is going to be very,very few fighters who can really test him, which could explain why so many at 115lbs are doing their best to avoid him.
Aged 29 Boyeaux is a bit of a young veteran. He debuted in 2009 but has amazingly racked 46 bouts into his career, and has been a genuine globe trotter. He has fought in France, England, Croatia, Serbia, Argentina, Brazil, Slovakia, Hungary and Morocco. Not only has he fought on the road a lot but he has also adapted his style from a typically European one to a an aggressive one thanks to spending a significant amount of time in Argentina. Not only has he been active but also successful and is riding an impressive 31-0-0-1 run, following an inauspicious 10-4 start.
One thing to note about Boyeaux is his competition hasn't been great. His most notable opponents were those opponents he faced in his early losses, with Carl Frampton and Josh Wale both beating him in the UK and Anthony Settoul beating him in France. That level of competition isn't going to prepare a fighter for Inoue, and instead Boyeaux will have to be hoping that his training camp and natural ability will be able to carry him through the bout.
Watching Boyeaux in action we have a very tall Super Flyweight, who is said to be around 5'7”, he's a fighter with the build to be a good outside fight but instead he has has shown a more aggressive and pressure based style which. He throws a lot of leather and looks to march down his foes, with a nice selection of shots. Sadly for all his aggression and output Boyeaux does seem to have a relative lack of power and will likely have a style that accentuates just how good Inoue is.
We expect to see the challenger take the fight to Inoue, look to put himself in the driving seat, like a number of other Inoue foes. After a round or two however he will realise that he needs to change gameplan, with Inoue counter, and pushing him back. For a few rounds Boyeaux may be able to have some moments, but before long Inoue's power, combinations, body punching and accuracy will be too much for the challenger, who will be stopped, likely in the middle rounds.
One of the Japanese fighters to really move his career on in a big way this year has been Ken Shiro (11-0, 5) [拳 四朗], who claimed the WBC Light Flyweight title and defended it earlier in 2017. He moved from regional and domestic champion to world champion and did so whilst being on the fast track, like a number of other Japanese youngsters. To end the year he looks to record his second defense and over-come Panamanian challenger Gilberto Pedroza (18-3-2, 8).
The Japanese youngster made his mark on the domestic amateur scene before fighting for pay August 2014. From there he has gone from success to success and claimed the WBC Youth, Japanese and OPBF titles before the start of this year. His 2017 has been a really big one with a title win in May against the excellent Ganigan Lopez and his first was equally impressive as he over-came Pedro Guevara.
On one hand his two wins over Guevara and Lopez were majority decision wins, on the other hand they were both hugely impressive performances against world class fighters, and fights that he certainly held his own in. Majority decisions at home can be questioned, but neither of these were poor decisions, just close, competitive wins against top level opponents. They showed that Ken Shiro can box, he can brawl, he can go toe-to-toe, and he can take a shot. He clearly isn't a puncher on the world stage, but he does meld styles brilliantly and that has always been the case.
At just 25 Ken Shiro is perhaps lacking in terms of his “man strength”, explaining why he has had just 2 stoppage wins in his last 7. Despite that he certainly his with respectable power, and fighters won't want to get into a brawl with him too often, as his accuracy and speed are both impressive traits. It is, perhaps, his movement which is his most over-looked skill, but something that was shown early in his career against the very talented Katsunori Nagamine, who he beat on his footwork and jab alone.
Whilst Ken Shiro has taken repeated steps up in class the same can't quite be said for Pedroza. Whilst he has impressed recently, and did score a split decision win over the excellent Saul Juarez last time out, he is lacking good wins. Earlier in his career he was 11-3-2 (6) with losses to Leroy Estrada, Carlos Ortega and Robert Barrera and draws against Carlos Melo and the aforementioned Ortega. Hardly murderer's row. The Juarez win aside there is no other quality win on his record.
Footage of Pedroa shows a rather raw looking fighter, as many non-elite fighters from the Latin American region are. He can certainly fight, and is an exciting fighter, but his offensive work leaves him very open and his defensive work is certainly nothing impressive. Unfortunately for Pedroza he lacks power and in his bout against Barrera he showed real boxing immaturity, allowing Barrera to wail away on him on the ropes until the referee stopped it. He has certainly improved since then, but has he improved enough to really be competing at world level?
Whilst Ken Shiro has impressed without shining this year we expect him to go out with a bang. He's featured live on national Japanese TV for the first time, he know he has a huge opportunity to put on a show and we we expect him to do just that, whilst stopping the visitor from Panama.
One of the best things about boxing is the variety of styles that fighters have, from the ultra-aggressive swarmers, to the intelligent counter punchers, the fighters who can bang and those who are more feather fisted. This coming Saturday we'll see an IBF Super Featherweight title fight between two men with remarkably different styles, matching a boxer-puncher with a slick defensive master, and it's going to be really interesting to see who will win the title, and be crowned the new champion.
The bout in question will see former Japanese Super Featherweight champion Kenichi Ogawa (22-1, 17) take on elusive American Southpaw Tevin Farmer (25-4-1, 5). It will be offense against defense, power against movement.
Of the two the one we have followed more is Ogawa and he's a man who's had an interesting career. Despite only losing once he has had some ups and downs and at times has failed to shine, whilst at others he has looked like a potential star for the Teiken gym. Aged 29 he's a fighter who is in his physical prime and has gotten to this level without any notable amateur background. Instead he's worked hard in the gym, worked with his natural talent and made the most of his physical attributes, including heavy hands.
Ogawa debuted back in 2010 and would go on to claim the All Japan Rookie of the Year title the following year, whilst running his record to 7-0 (5). His sole loss came the following year, when Yuki Miyoshi stopped him in 5 rounds due to an injury to the jaw of Ogawa. Since that loss the Teiken man has gone 14-0 (11), avenged the loss to Miyoshi and claimed the Japanese title, courtesy of a technical decision over Rikki Naito.
As the national champion Ogawa defended the title 5 times, going 5-0 (3) during his reign, but had question marks asked in two wins over Satoru Sugita, as well as defenses against Kento Matsushita and Rikki Naito. In some ways the performances as champion seemed to suggest that Ogawa had maybe plateaued as a fighter and had holes in his game, especially defensively, that weren't being fixed. Against Sugita and Matsushita it seemed like Ogawa struggled with movement, a busy jab and fighters who weren't trying to exchange with him. Those who exchanged with him felt his power, and tended to be stopped, with Ogawa having a vicious left hook and a spiteful straight right hand, but those who moved gave him fits.
Whilst Ogawa is a big puncher with some defensively and technical flaws it's fair to saw that Farmer is the total opposite. He's a very light puncher, but he's razor sharp, with incredible defensive instincts and some of the best upper body movement in boxing today. Not only that but he also has one of the sports more misleading records, with 4 defeats to his name and a draw. Those setbacks all came in his first 12 bouts, when he was 7-4-1 (1), and included losses to very good fighters like Kamil Laszczyk and Jose Pedraza.
Since suffering his last loss Ogawa has gone 18-0 (4), stringing together wins over notable opponents like Daulis Prescott, Gamaliel Diaz and Ivan Redkach, and proving his ability as a very intelligent defensive fighter, who uses reflexes and movement very well. Although not a big puncher he hits harder than his record suggests, and his clean, as he showed against Prescott and Diaz, who were both down a number of times against him. In the ring he looks a natural, his understanding of range is brilliant and he uses some very unorthodox skills to catch his opponents in unusual ways.
Whilst we could rave about Farmer's skills all day he does look under-sized at 130lbs, and although very elusive in terms of his defense it does seem like a fighter could physically rough him up, bully him around and generally hold and wrestle him. He'll be giving away several inches to Ogawa and when hydrated Ogawa will likely have a significant weight advantage as well.
We'd love to see Ogawa win, and become the new Japanese face at 130lbs, but the reality is his last few performances have shown a lot of flaws, and those flaws will be exploited massively but Farmer. There is a chance Ogawa catches the American with something big, or has a game plan based bullying Farmer, but we suspect the American will frustrate, out box, out move and out point Ogawa to a 12 round decision.
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.