The Minmumweight division has continued to go under-the-radar in recent years despite some amazing fighters, and fights, down at 105lbs. On February 26th we'll get another potentially sensational fight as Vic Saludar (18-3, 10) defends the WBO title against Japanese challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-2, 7), in what has the potential to be a FOTY contender.
The 28 year old Saludar claimed the title last year, when he defeated Ryuya Yamanaka in an underrated 12 round bout back in July, exactly 5 years after his debut. That was his second world title fight, after suffering a KO loss to Kosei Tanaka back at the end of 2015. In both bouts the Filipino showed how good he was, and showed that he was a strong, powerful, hard hitting fighter with real ambition. He was technically the most rounded fighter, but more technical than many give his credit for. He was accurate, exciting, and very determined.
After turning professional in 2013 Saludar had been tipped for big things. His career took a hit early however when he pulled out of his third bout, suffering a fractured hand against Powell Balaba just 4 months after his debut.He would rebuild to get the shot at Tanaka and drop Tanaka before being stopped himself, whilst well up on the scorecards. He would then begin a charge towards a second world title fight. That charge hit a bump when he lost to Toto Landero, but he bounced back from that defeat and ended up defeating Yamanaka, and sadly forcing Yamanaka to retire following a small brain bleed.
Although his record is 18-3 (10) Saludar is a huge puncher. He dropped Tanaka, he dropped and badly hurt Yamanaka. He's not the type of guy you choose to get into a war with, and instead you attempt to outbox him, take advantage of his technical flaws and win rounds, hoping to make the most of his mistakes. He's perhaps not the toughest fighter out there, but it did take a beauty of a body punch from Tanaka to stop him, but he is rather rugged.
Taniguchi also has a misleading record, with 2 losses in his first 13 fights. He could however be 13-0 (7) and nobody would have criticised the decisions, with both of his losses coming in razor thin majority decisions. Not only have they come by the narrowest of margins, but they have also come at a very high level. His first loss was to the then 12-0 Reiya Konishi in a Japanese title fight, whilst the second was to the then OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura, who was 11-0. Those losses have come to fighters who are going to be in the world title mix for years to come.
Taniguchi turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi and both were expected to be on a similar career trajectory, with Watanabe matching them on the same shows early in their careers. Since then Kyoguchi has become one of the faces of Japanese boxing, becoming a 2-weight champion. Taniguchi hasn't quite had the same success, suffering his two losses and also suffering some injuries, that have slowed his rise. He did however, claim his first title last year, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in November in Thailand to open up this fight.
Taniguchi is a skilled boxer-puncher, with a good output, a real toughness and an exciting style that should make for a thrilling clash with Saludar. He's also a fighter who has solid power, a determined mentality and nice variety to his punches. We'd go as far as to say that Taniguchi is the better pure boxer, whilst Saludar is the bigger single puncher. Taniguchi is however a southpaw, and that may prove to be a key factor.
We're expecting a highly skilled chess match with knights removed, and shotguns replacing them. We can't help but imagine both will be unloading bombs, looking to take the other out. We believe the better skills of Taniguchi will prove to be a key for him, but Saludar will certainly be able to hurt the challenger if he lands cleanly, and there will always be a real sense of danger when he connects.
We see this being a close and competitive bout, but we do see Taniguchi doing enough to take the take in a clear, but very hard fought, decision.
In 2018 we saw Jaime Munguia (31-0, 26) go from the man that couldn't get sanctioned to face Gennady Golovkin to one of the most must watch fighters on the planet. He went from relative obscurity to become the WBO Light Middleweight champion, and managed to fit in 2 defenses in what was an incredible break out year for the baby faced Mexican. To begin 2019 he faces Japanese challenger Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7), in what will be Munguia's third defense of the title he won in May, when he stopped Sadam Ali, and will be Inoue's first world title fight.
Of the two men it's clear the champion who is the more well known, thanks in part to a breakout 2018. At the start of last year Munguia was a 21 year old Mexican prospect with a 26-0 (22) record, who's only bout outside of Mexico was a win over Paul Valenzuela in Las Vegas, and even that was off TV. By the end of the year he was one of the leading Light Middleweights on the planet, a must watch fighter and someone who was being seen as the possible Mexican successor to Saul Alvarez. He would fit 5 fights into 2018 including his title win over Sadam Ali and title defenses against Liam Smith and Brandon Cook, and build a huge fan base in a very short amount of time.
In the ring Munguia is an all action fighter. He's technically very flawed but is a huge Light Middleweight, with an excellent engine, a high out put, a lot of power, an ability to soak up punishment. The technical flaws, most of which are defensive, are covered up by Munguia's hyper aggressive style. Compubox recorded Munguia as throwing well over 800 punches in his 12 round bout against Liam Smith, an incredible number for a world title bout at Light Middleweight. Worryingly many of those shots were full blooded power shots, and he looks like the fighter who is naturally very heavy handed.
Inoue, no relation to Naoya Inoue, is a fighter who had a huge 2017 in terms of regional success but saw 2018 as a near write off. The 29 year old from Tokyo has done it all on the regional level, unifying the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight titles, and doing so in 7 months last year. As a professional his biggest wins are over the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Ratchasi Sithsaithong and Yuki Nonaka, none of whom are really known outside of the Oriental region. Sadly 2018 saw him fight only once, taking a decision over Nonaka in a world title eliminator, due to protracted talks to face Julian Williams in a final eliminator, talks that never got sorted.
In the ring Inoue is a relatively small Light Middleweight, who has shown an ability to box or brawl at regional level. Sadly for him he isn't a big puncher, he's also not the quickest fighter out there, or the most defensively sound. Despite not having anything special he is a solid all round, often breaking opponents down in the middle rounds, with 3 of his wins last year coming by stoppage in the second half of fights. He'll need to rely on skills and a flawless game plan here, but unfortunately even that might not be enough to over-come Munguia.
We don't think anyone on the planet will have an easy time with Mungia, even the best fighters at Middleweight never mind Light Middleweight. Sadly for Inoue he's stylistically up against it here, and whilst we suspect Inoue won't struggle to find Munguia who won't have the tools to cope with the rampaging Mexican, who will break down the Japanese challenger, possibly even in the first half of the fight. We would love to see Inoue get the upset, but sadly we don't see how he can defeat Munguia, barring a freak accident from the Mexican
The Featherweight division is on of the most fragmented in the sport right now, with no unified champions and no clear #1. In fact it's not really clear on the ordering of any of the champions, and inactivity of certain fighters atop the division doesn't help matter. This coming Saturday we get a WBA "regular" title bout in the division, as defending champion Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) defends his belt against Chinese challenger Can Xu (15-2, 2). No matter who wins the division will remain a huge mess at the top, though at the very least this bout should remove a contender from the very messy WBA title picture.
We say it's a messy title scene for the WBA as they currently have 3 champions in the division. Rojas, the "regular" champion, Leo Santa Cruz, the "Super champion" and Jhack Tepora, the "interim" champion [ Ed's note - Tepora will be defending the "interim" title against Hugo Ruiz the day AFTER this preview goes live]. It appears none of the men are likely to face off any time soon, and instead the 3 titles will float around for time. Rather than linger on that, and politics of the WBA, we'll get on to the preview.
Rojas, from Puerto Rico, is one of the division's many over-looked fighters. He's tough, heavy handed, aggressive, physically strong and a nightmare for many in the division. Technically he is flawed, a rough around the edges fighter who can be out boxed, out sped and out thought, though few will fancy their chances of out fighting him. He comes forward behind a tight guard, looks to go to work up close and turn things into a fighter. He has been down before, and actually lost a decision last time out to Jospeh Diaz but kept the title due to Diaz failing to make weight. Diaz beat him by establishing the range, using a lot of jabs and countering well, setting a gameplan that fighters could use to beat Rojas in the future, if they have a similar skill level and toughness to Diaz.
Although he can be out boxed Rojas is the type of fighter who will be a nightmare for anyone. He will press the action, come forward and make even the best boxers work incredibly hard to earn a win. His aggression, physical strength an will to win are very hard to over-come.
Xu is looking to become the third Chinese male to win a world title, following Xiong Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, he's also looking to become their first champion above 112lbs. He's a relative unknown on the international scene, though is relatively well known in Asia, where he has fought all but 1 bout. In Asia he has scored notable wins against the likes Hurricane Futa, Kris George, Corey McConnell, Spicy Matsushita and Nehomar Cermeno. Outside of Asia his only bout saw him being surprisingly pushed all the way by Enrique Bernache last September, and in fact that bout almost cost him this title fight.
In the ring Xu is far from a puncher. He's an aggressive boxer, who lets his hands go a lot, but lacks power, and his stoppages have come from wearing opponents down. Despite his high work rate he does lack finesse in a lot of what he does, though has sparred with top fighters to try and develop his skills and polish things off. That sparring, including sparring with Naoya Inoue, will help improve Xu but the reality is that he's never going to be a a fluid, natural fighter. More a basic fighter, who works hard for results, especially at a level like this.
Given that both men like to let their hands go, both come forward and neither looks great on the back foot we're expecting these two to meet center ring. Sadly for Xu meeting with Rojas in the ring isn't a wise idea, and we suspect that Rojas' power and psychical strength will be the difference. Xu will be forced to back up, and we don't think he'll be effective on the back foot, instead we see him being broken down in the second half of the fight.
This coming Saturday we get the first major US bout featuring an Asian fighter, as Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39) defends his WBA Welterweight title against controversial American Adrien Broner (33-3-1-1, 24). For Pacquiao the bout will be the first of the title he won last July, when he stopped Lucas Matthysse, whilst Broner will be looking to reclaim the title he lost to Marcos Maidana in 2013.
At the age of 40 it's hard to know exactly what Pacquiao has left, however last time out he looked better than he had in a while, with some new found hunger and desire. It wasn't the Pacquiao of his heyday, where he was a destructive maelstrom of punches, but it was a sharp, hard hitting and smart Pacquiao. He was accurate, landing left hands at will and using his experience and skills to stop Matthysse. Amazingly the stoppage of Matthysse was Pacquiao's first since he stopped Miguel Cotto back in 2009.
At his very best Pacquiao was one of the all time greats, capable of living with the best in any era. Not only could have claim to have been one of the best, but he could also claim to have been one of the best in a number of divisions, having won world titles from 112lbs up to 154lbs. Now a days however it's clear that we're not looking at the same Pacquiao. He's still a very explosive southpaw, with a demonic straight left hand, however he has lost some speed, some ferocity and some of his energy. He's adapted his style well, and he's still a fantastic fighter, but not the man who defeated the likes of Chatchai Sasakul, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, among others.
An 80% Pacquiao would still be favoured over most fighters, but it's really not clear if we have an 80% Pacquiao or not. If we do it's always hard to bet against him.
Broner was once regarded as the heir apparent for Floyd Mayweater Jr. He was a skilled, counter puncher with a loud and brash attitude, that helped to generate a lot of buzz. He quickly went through the weigh classes, claiming titles from Super Featherweight to Welterweight, but it seemed like he move up due to an inability to control his weight, rather than naturally growing into bigger divisions.At the lower weights he was physically strong, powerful, quick and explosive. As he's moved up in weight he's kept the quickness, but is less physically imposing, less destructive and less active, in fact he's rather lazy in the ring, with low out put.
Technically Broner is a very talented fighter. When he actually uses his brain he's excellent. He's a sharp puncher, has a solid defense, impressive power and good timing. Sadly however his biggest issues in boxing, and it seems outside of boxing, is his brain and he's proven to not be the smartest or most dedicated fighter. Instead he's proving to be someone willing to derail his own career on a regular basis. If he clicks and can get up for a fight, and maintain the mental aspect that he needs he can be a major player, at least at Light Welterweight, but we're unsure whether he will ever make the most of his potential.
Given the age of Pacquiao we won't rule out a Broner win, but that would be an upset. We suspect Pacquiao will box to orders, move, stay busy and use his speed to simply out box a lazy Broner. Broner does have the skills and power to beat a faded Pacquiao, but we're not sure he has the mentality to beat the Filipino icon, even a 40 year old Pacquiao.
Our prediction is a wide UD to Pacquiao on this one.
On January 19th our attention, at least later in the day, will be in Nevada, as PBC put on a stacked card in association with numerous promoters. One of the many notable bouts on that card will see unbeaten Filipino Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) make his first defense of the WBA "interim" Featherweight title, as he takes on Mexican veteran Hugo Ruiz (38-4, 33). On paper this should be a very explosive and exciting match up between two heavy-handed fighters, who are both flawed, but exciting.
Tepora had long been seen as a rising prospect on the Filipino scene, and put his name on the international stage in 2017 when he scored a KO of the year contender against Lusanda Komanisi in South Africa. That was Tepora's 16th stoppage win in 21 bouts and his first outside of the Philippines. He built on that win last July in Malaysia by stopping Edivaldo Ortega in 9 rounds, to claim the WBA interim title. In both of those bouts Tepora looked a bit slow, and technically flawed, but was aggressive, heavy-handed and showed that even his jab could put opponents on the back foot.
Fighting from the southpaw stance, with a lot of power, Tepora is a real danger man and the 25 year old will be looking to have a lengthy reign with that title. Sadly however he's not fought since his title winning effort and has failed to really build on that win, something he'll be looking to do when he faces Ruiz. It should be noted that Tepora, at 5'6" is a bit on the short side for a top Featherweight, though has grown into the division, having debuted in 2012 as a Flyweight. He's powerful and a fully mature fighter even if he lacks a bit in terms of experience at the top-level.
The 30 year old Ruiz has had a long career, and a pretty interesting one at that. he would lose an early career bout to Enrique Quevedo before rebuilding to become the WBA "interim" Bantamweight champion in 2011. He held the interim title at 118lbs until challenging "regular" champion Koki Kameda in 2012, losing a close decision to Kameda in Osaka. He would later move up in weight and go 1-1 with Julio Ceja, winning the second bout with Ceja to claim the WBC Super Bantamweight title. That title reign didn't last long, with Ceja losing the title in Japan to Hozumi Hasegawa, in what would be Hasegawa's final bout. Since then he has returned to the ring, winning a couple of low key bouts in Mexico, and decided to move up in weight.
In the ring Ruiz is a powerful boxer-puncher, who is huge for the lower weight classes at almost 5'10". We wonder how much he has taken out of himself by boiling down in the past, and how much better he might end up being at 126lbs. By that same token we have seen him hurt by smaller men and we have to wonder how he copes if he's caught by a bomb by a true Featherweight. We also wonder how his nose, which was injured against Hasegawa, will hold up if he gets tagged on it.
Technically Ruiz is the taller, rangier fighter and also the more technically skilled of the two men. He is however a man who has shown some frailties in the past and against Tepora that is a major issue. Tepora is not the type of guy you want to fight if there's any question marks about your durability.
We expect to see Ruiz give Tepora issues, especially early on, but Tepora will, sooner or later, cut the distance and break his man down, somewhere in the middle rounds, to stop Ruiz and record his first defense of the title. Hopefully that will then lead to a busy and exciting 2019 for Tepora, who should be kept busy and allowed to really build his name over the coming years.
It's taken less than 3 weeks for boxing to throw us the first curve ball of the year, with the announcement of an IBF Super Bantamweight title bout pitting unbeaten champion TJ Doheny (20-0, 14) against little known Japanese challenger Ryohei Takahashi (15-3-1, 6) [高橋竜平] on January 18th. The bout was put together on short notice, with Takahashi's team struggling to get him a visa on short notice for a bout he simply couldn't turn down. As we write this, it's still unclear if a visa has been granted, things are being cut that fine!
So, let's just accept a visa has been given and that the bout is on, lets now look into the bout, and what we're going to be seeing for Doheny's DAZN debut, and his first bout under Eddie Hearn.
The unbeaten 32 year old champion won the title last year, travelling to Tokyo and dethroning Ryosuke Iwasa. That bout, shown in Japan and the US, was supposed to set the winner up for a bout with the then WBO champion Isaac Dogboe. Instead of facing Dogboe in a unification bout the Australian based Irish man saw had to recover from serious facial injuries and in December Dogboe was himself dethroned. That seemed to leave Doheny with plenty of options on the table, including potential Japanese returns for some of their big names like Shingo Wake. Instead, however, he signed with Eddie Hearn, and that deal was announced on January 8th with his first bout under Hearn announced for just 10 days later.
Dubbed "The Power" Doheny is actually not an out and out puncher. He can bang, and he certainly does have power, but as he showed against Iwasa he's a talented mover, a sharp puncher, an intelligent fighter and not someone who look to just bang with a banger. He made Iwasa look slow and clumsy by stopping "Eagle Eye" from setting his feet, and for the most part out worked and out manoeuvered the Japanese fighter. Other than the win over Iwasa Doheny's record is a bit thin, with his best wins coming against the likes of Mike Oliver, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Marco Demecillo and Mike Tawatchai. That however isn't a sign that he's a bad fighter, just one who hasn't been able to really prove what he can do, often enough.
As mentioned Takahashi is a little known fighter, and if you don't follow the Asian or Oceanic scene you almost certainly won't have seen him at all. Almost all of his bouts have been in his native Japan, and most haven't been televised. His early career wasn't great, losing his debut in 96 seconds to Shogo Sumitomo in December 2012, before fighting to a draw with Matcha Nakagawa in his second bout. It wasn't until January 2014 that he scored his first win, but he really came of age during that year and went on to win the All Japan Bantamweight Rookie of the Year whilst advancing his record to 5-1-1. In 2015 he notched 3 more wins before leaving Japan for the first time and losing a wide decision to a then 5-0 Andrew Moloney, then a prospect but now a leading Super Flyweight contender. Since that loss Takahashi has gone 8-1 with notable domestic wins over Matcha Nakagawa, Kazuki Tanaka and Shingo Kusano as well as a big win over Thailand's Mike Tawatchai in Thailand.
Takahashi is an aggressive fighter, he looks to set a high work rate and fights like someone who is confident in himself. That confidence has grown in the last few years, really booming since he stopped the then touted Kazuki Tanaka back in May 2017, with what was sheer determination and pressure. That was a tactic he used well against Mike Tawatchai as well, to take a clear decision in Thailand. Sadly however Takahashi is defensively open, and in his bout against Shingo Kusano he was being caught bu southpaw left hands time and time again, looking like he really wasn't sure how to fight a southpaw, though had the energy and desire to take the narrow decision. That is the bout that should worry those picking the upset. Even against orthodox fighter Takahashi's defense doesn't look the best, but against southpaws he really is open.
Although we would suggest Doheny would win anyway Takahashi also to issues with his visa, the late notice and the time zone change. Any one of those issues would be a problem, but all 2 really do show the card is stacked against him, we don't blame Doheny for that but do wonder if Eddie Hearn has had problems putting together an attractive card due to over stretching his resources and time. He's got a lot on his plate right now and giving fighters like Takahashi the opportunity of a life time on short notice might work, but it's a reputation he won't want to build.
As a prediction we suspect Doheny's speed, power and southpaw stance will pick apart a game challenger and Takahashi, whilst brave, will be stopped in the middle rounds by the champion, who is looking to unify with WBA champion Daniel Roman later in the year.
(Image courtesy of Yokohama Hikari)
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On New Year’s Eve, we will witness a clash of 3 division World Champions, as Kazuto Ioka and Donnie Nietes will square off for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight World Championship, in Macau, China.
Kazuto Ioka (23-1/13 KOs) is without a doubt one of the best Japanese boxers of the last decade. He proved his worth quite early, back in his amateur days, amassing an impressive record of 95 wins in 105 bouts, including two All Japan championships, two Inter-High School titles as well as a four time winner of the National Sports Festival.
Turned pro in 2009, he showcased his amateur pedigree as he dispatched world title contender Takashi Kunishige, in just his third fight. Ioka then went on to win the vacant Japanese Light Flyweight title after he TKOed Masayoshi Segawa, only 18 months after his debut.
On February of 2011, Ioka’s first major test arrived when he challenged the unbeaten Kittipong Jaigrajang (35-0 at the time) for the WBC Minimumweight World Championship. Jaigrajang was champion for 4 years and had 6 title defenses under his belt. The Japanese hopeful went toe to toe with the veteran Thai champion, even knocking him down as early as in the second round and then once more in the fifth, with a lethal left body blow, sealing the deal and becoming the world champion at only 21 years of age. Ioka defended his championship twice the same year, against Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Veerawut Yuthimitr.
On June 20 of 2012, he was involved in a unification bout with the WBA champion and fellow rising Japanese star, Akira Yaegashi. Their careers shared many similarities. Yaegashi was also an accomplished amateur, with a record of 56-14, and had also won the National Sports Festival, back in 2002. Both men brought their A game that night, knowing what was at stake. An epic back and forth affair, that brought the fans to their feet, ended with Ioka earning the unanimous decision and leaving Osaka with two world championships.
Having conquered the Minimumweight division, Ioka decided to move up a weight class and faced Jose Alfredo Rodriguez for the vacant WBA Light Flyweight World Title (Regular version). Rodriguez was the former interim WBA champion, with 28 wins and only 1 decision loss. The Japanese prodigy systematically picked him apart with body shots and hooks, dropping him thrice, for the win as well as for his second divisional world title reign.
Ioka enjoyed another long run with the belt, marking 3 successful defenses over Phissanu Chimsunthom, former world champion Ekkawit Songnui and Felix Alvarado (current IBF Light Flyweight World Champion). Since the Roman Gonzalez fight never took place (WBA Super champion) Ioka vacated his title and debuted in the Flyweight division, where he tasted defeat for the first time as a pro, as he failed to capture the IBF title from Amnat Ruenroeng, in a very evenly contested bout. Ironically, Ioka had lost again to Amnat in the past, back in their amateur days, when they met at the semi-finals of the 2008 King's Cup, an annual boxing tournament held in Thailand.
The 2 division world champion came back even more determined, beating Pablo Carrillo and knocking out former interim world champion Jean Piero Perez with a thunderous right straight, within the span of three months, thus earning another opportunity at a Flyweight World Title, this time against the WBA Regular champion, Juan Carlos Reveco. After 12 action packed rounds, the Japanese superstar finally became a 3 division champion. Since the fight was very close on the judges’ scorecards, a rematch was set on New Year’s Eve of 2015. As usual, Ioka’s body work was the key factor, stopping Reveco in the eleventh round, in what otherwise was once again a close call.
As WBA Flyweight World Champion, he made five successful title defenses, over the likes of Roberto Domingo Sosa, Juan Carlos Reveco (as mentioned above), Keyvin Lara, Yutthana Kaensa and Nare Yianleang. His toughest one had to be against Kaensa. The interim WBA World Champion, with a perfect record of 16-0, shocked everyone when he knocked Ioka down, with a fast right counter hook, in the second round. Ioka had never been dropped before in his pro career. Kaensa kept the pressure on for the majority of the fight, giving the champion a bigger challenge than he expected. The tables turned however as Ioka put the Thai boxer down with a liver shot in the seventh round and proceeded to finish him off by punishing his body even further.
His sixth defense was scheduled to take place on December 31st of 2017 but due to getting married and reportedly falling out with his father and promoter, Kazunori Ioka, he chose to retire and vacate his belt.
Almost 17 months later, Ioka returned to active competition, this time at Super Flyweight and with a new goal in mind: to become a 4 division world champion. He immediately challenged McWilliams Arroyo for the WBC Silver Flyweight Title. Arroyo, much like Ioka, also had an extensive amateur career, winning the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2009 AIBA World Boxing Championships, including victories over 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Yan Bartelemí and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist Nyambayaryn Togstsogt. With no signs of ring-rust, the former multiple time world champion took control of the fight from the opening round and never let up. After 10 rounds and one knocked out in the third, the Japanese superstar was back on track. It’s worth mentioning that this was Ioka’s first fight in the U.S. as well as his first fight outside of Japan, as a pro. Now, only one man stands between him and his dream and that’s non other than fellow 3 division champion Donnie Nietes.
Donnie Nietes (41-1/23 KOs) a 15 year veteran of the sport, began his career back in 2003, amassing 21 wins in 25 fights (1 split decision loss and 3 draws) before challenging for his first world title. Nietes fought a 20-0 future WBA champion Somporn Seeta, for the vacant WBO Minimumweight World Championship, in 2007.
An action packed encounter, the Filipino was repeatedly nailing Seeta with body shots and uppercuts through out their match and even managed to drop him with a counter right hook in the fourth round. When the dust had settled, he was crowned the new world champion.
Nietes made four successful title defenses as Minimumweight champion, over Eddy Castro, Eric Ramirez, interim WBO champion Manuel Vargas and future IBF champion Mario Rodriguez, before challenging Ramon Garcia Hirales for the WBO Light Flyweight World Title. It was a smart play from Nietes that saw him consistently wearing Hirales down. The Mexican fought back for a while but, as the match progressed, he was too exhausted to do anything significant. In the end, “The Snake” was a 2 division world champion and embarked on a long championship reign that lasted almost 5 years, boasting an impressive number of nine defenses.
His biggest victories as Light Flyweight champion were against Moises Fuentes, Sammy Gutierrez, Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and Raul Garcia. Specifically, he fought Fuentes twice during his run with the belt, as their initial meeting ended in a majority draw. Prior to their rematch, Nietes first dispatched former interim WBA Minimumweight and WBC Silver Light Flyweight champion Sammy Gutierrez.
The Filipino chased his opponent relentlessly, dropping him twice in just the opening round. Gutierrez tried to turn it to a brawl, but got cracked by a straight right punch to the chin. Fuentes, also a 2 division champion, got his shot again a year later but this time Nietes was far more aggressive than his was before, taking Fuentes by surprise and eventually knocking him out in the ninth. Compared to the previous bouts, the Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and Raul Garcia fights (former WBO & IBF Minimumweight World Champions) were slower and less exciting. At least in his match with Garcia, the pace gradually picked up and even scored two knockdowns.
In 2016, Nietes sought new opportunities as he moved up to Flyweight. His skills were put to test immediately as he faced former WBC Light Flyweight World Champion Edgar Sosa, for the vacant WBO Intercontinental title. Sosa, a well rounded veteran (52-11), had been a long time WBC International and Silver Flyweight champion, giving him the experience factor in this division. This didn’t hinder the Snake at all as he took the fight to the Mexican striker, throwing bombs and some sweet combinations in the last rounds that earned him a very wide unanimous decision and the strap.
About 8 months later, Nietes went up against Komgrich Nantapech for the vacant IBF Flyweight World Championship. Komgrich, despite being a “lesser” opponent, considering the level of competition Nietes had already faced, gave the Filipino a bigger fight than anticipated. His power and speed kept him into the fight until the last round, making him look good against a much better fighter than himself. In the end however, Nietes’ experience came to play, as he kept Nantapech at a safe distance, while peppering him with shots, scoring more on the judges’ scorecards. Once again, Nietes had his arm raised, as he was declared a 3 division champion.
Nietes’ one and only IBF title defense took place earlier this year, in America, when he stopped former WBA Flyweight World Champion Juan Carlos Reveco in the seventh round, after catching him with a right hook, followed by a flurry of body shots and then landing a devastating left uppercut. Reveco could barely stand on his own two feet, leaving his corner no choice but to throw in the towel.
This past September, Nietes had a chance to become a 4 division champion, in less than 2 years. His fight with top ranked Super Flyweight boxer Aston Palicte, for the vacant WBO belt, ended in a split decision draw, a decision that was questioned by many, since Nietes was way busier, landing more punches than Palicte, as well as more accurate ones. As faith would have it, Nietes will once again get another crack at the same price that unfairly escaped his grip, before the year is over, when he collides with Kazuto Ioka in Macau.
This is a fight of epic proportions. We are talking about two men that have been world champions for the majority of their careers, winning the gold in three different divisions. Their paths have been quite similar and an encounter was only inevitable. Ioka as well as Nietes are strong, intelligent fighters, with a tone of experience. Which one will have the edge here? Ioka is the more aggressive boxer, with a higher KO percentage, overall and in championship matches only. Nietes is the more conservative one, as he doesn’t go for the kill as often as his rival, but knows how to take his time and how to surgically pick his foes apart. Ioka’s excellent body work should be taken into consideration, as it has been his most important weapon through out his career. Nietes also likes to attack the body, creating openings so he can strike the head. The speed has to be on Ioka’s side. In spite of his long absence, his combinations were as fast and accurate as before he retired, whereas Nietes has slowed down a bit, as it was evident in the Nantapech bout. On the other hand, the experience sides with Nietes, as he has been involved in 47 matches in the past 15 years. All in all, this is clearly anyone’s game, which is the reason why this fight is so exciting. Who will leave Macau a Super Flyweight champion for the first time? Tune in on NYE to find out!
The Light Flyweight division has long been one of the best in the sport and it's really red hot with so much world class talent. To end the year we get the chance to see two truly world class fighters face off in a mouth watering clash in Macau. In one corner we'll have WBA "super" champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10) and in the other we'll have former IBF Minmumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8). Stylistcally the two men are massively different but together they should gel for a FOTY contender and make for something very special.
South African fighter Budler is a grizzled veteran, who is 30 years old and turned professional way back in 2007. His career was over-looked early on by the international boxing world despite early career fights in Canada and the USA, but he would impress in later years when he won the WBA Minimumweight title. As the champion at 105lbs Budler would go on to shine in bouts held in Monaco, raising his profile dramatically, before boosting his reputation at home with a win over Simpiwe Koncko. Sadly his reign ended in 2016, losing to Byron Rojas, before he moved up in weight. At Light Flyweight he has gone 3-1, losing in a nail biter in 2017 to Milan Melindo before beating Ryoichi Taguchi this past May in another brilliant 12 round bout.
Budler is technically a flawed fighter but he has an amazing engine, fighting at a high tempo through 12 rounds, he throws from unorthodox angles, and refuses to back off. Although not powerful his work rate is a nightmare and he's very hard to get respect from, even if he's not iron chinned. In fact if we were to sum him up it would be "iron willed buzzsaw", and we genuinely love watching him.
Unbeaten Japanese fighter Kyoguchi was put on the fast lane when he debuted in 2016 and he raced away to his first world title just 15 months after making his professional debut. After 2 defenses of the IBF Minimumweight title he decided to move up in weight, and now campaigns at Light Flyweight, which should suit his growing body better than the 105lbs weight class. At Minimumweight he was an aggressive bully, who used his physicality and his heavy hands to great effect, and combined those with under-rated speed and brilliant combination punching, especially on the inside.
Interestingly Kyoguchi is stablemates with Ryoichi Taguchi, the man that Budler beat for the WBA "Super" Light Flyweight title. That bout will serve as an advantage for Kyoguchi, who will have been given a scouting report from his Watanabe Gym stablemate, who will be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Budler. What we've seen of both men makes us expect something really exciting and action packed, and Kyoguchi really holds the advantage on the inside, with very under-rated body punching, especially his left hook to the mid-section. We suspect that punch will be the key, and that he'll find a home for it early on, and rely on it to slow down and break up the South African.
Budler has never been stopped before, he is a top fighter at 108lbs and he is tough. We do however think that Kyoguchi is a special fighter, in a similar mould to Roman Gonzalez, and will move through the weights with relative ease whilst getting stronger. We suspect that Budler start well here before being broken down and maybe even stopped in the later rounds as Kyoguchi announces himself on a new division in style.
In 2018 we've seen the Flyweight division go through some huge changes, and not a single fighter who began the year a world champion is actually still a champion. In fact the longest reigning champion in the division is Artem Dalakian, and his WBA reign only began in February. To end the year the division may have one more sting in the tail, as IBF champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) makes his first defense, of his second reign, and goes up against unheralded Japanese challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9).
The champion is a true veteran of the sport. He turned professional in 2000, as an 18 year old, and got his first big break in 2008, winning an IBF eliminator. Unfortunately he would come up short in his first world title fight, losing by TKO due to cute to Nonito Donaire in Las Vegas, but gave Donaire one of his toughest bouts at the time. Despite losing to Donaire we did see Mthalane claim the title a year later, beating Julio Cesar Miranda for the vacant title. As the champion he would make 4 defenses over 3 years, stopping Zolani Tete, Johnriel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though politics would play a part in hins reign, not only leading to inactivity but also eventually leading to Mthalane vacating, rather than facing Amnat Ruenroeng for a very paltry purse.
Despite vacating the belt Mthalane remained a leading Flyweight contender, and would get a chance to recapture the belt this past July, a chance he made the most of by beating Korean based Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem by unanimous decision in Malaysia.
At the age of 36 is ancient for a Flyweight, and with 38 bouts on his record is certainly a fighter who has had a hard career. He has real wars with the likes of Donaire, Nunez, Waseem and Jether Oliva, who gave Mthalane a horribly swollen eye. Despite being old Mthalane is a technical master in the ring, with an excellent boxing IQ, an aggressive style, which can be either that of a pressure fighter or an aggressive counter puncher, and he is a surprisingly quick an powerful fighter. Defensively he's sound, though there are some question marks about his stamina, and he was running on empty in the later rounds against Waseem.
Whilst the champion has long been under-the-radar, hard core fans have known about him for around a decade. The challenger on the other hand is a real unknown for those who don't follow the Asian scene, and more specifically the Japanese scene. He made his first mark on the sport in 2015, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Flyweight and would lose his first title bout the following year, losing in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout to future world champion Sho Kimura. Thankfully for Sakamoto he would win that regional title the following year, stopping Kwanthai Sithmorseng, and defend it once, stopping Pigmy Kokietgym. Sadly those are the only 2 wins of major note on his record, and his loss to Kimura came at a time when no one really knew who Kimura was, and was the win that put Kimura on the road for his break out win against Zou Shiming in 2017.
Although Sakamoto hasn't had much TV exposure, aside from his Rookie of the Year stuff, he has got plenty of footage out there on boxingraise. That footage shows a smart fighter, a fighter who thinks about what he's doing, and boxing with his brain. Sadly though it shows a fighter with not exceptional natural talent. He's a a good, steady, boxer, but not a quick one or a monstrous puncher. He's a fighter who appears to have been more about hard work, dedication and gradual development, something that was clear between the loss to Kimura and his wins against the notable Thai's.
With a loss to Kimura it's fair to say that Sakamoto has lost the biggest bout of his career. This bout is bigger though and he will be the clear under-dog. He's up against the most technically proficient fighter he has ever faced, and a man who has a wealth of experience at world level. Sakamoto's team have been developing a game plan for Mthalane for a while, and it's almost certainly one based around making the most of Mthalane's advanced age. Sadly though the Japanese fighter is likely to find himself up against it here.
We would love to see Sakamoto win, and the potential rematch with Kimura or a unification bout with Kosei Tanaka, though the truth is that he is the huge under-dog here. We suspect his lack of experience at this level will be a major problem. We suspect Sakamoto will have moments, but sadly will come up short to the pressure and accuracy of the very talented champion.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 30, as part of the big triple header on Fuji TV, Masayuki Ito will defend his newly won WBO Super Featherweight World Championship, against top ranked Russian fighter Evgeny Chuprakov, in Ota City, Japan.
Masayuki Ito (24-1-1/12 KOs) is one of Japan’s brightest new stars. Much like Satoshi Shimizu, Takeshi Inoue, Masayoshi Nakatani & Tsubasa Koura, he is looking to leave his mark on the world stage. Made his pro debut in 2009, at only 18 years of age, Ito remained undefeated for 5 years while winning 16 fights in a row (plus a WBC Youth belt) against the likes of Masao Nakamura (former OPBF & reigning WBO Asia Pacific champion), Ryan Sermona (former WBC International champion) as well as Masaru Sueyoshi (current Japanese & OPBF champion/WBO #6). His one and only loss was a majority decision to Rikki Naito.
Ito quickly bounced back as he stopped Dai Iwai on August of 2015, to win the vacant OPBF Super Featherweight crown. He then squared off with the IBF Asia champion Shingo Eto, for 12 exciting rounds, to mark his inaguaral title defense. One of his biggest fights at the time came at New Year‘s Eve of 2016, when he faced the WBO Asia Pacific champion Takuya Watanabe, in a double title bout. Ito slowly and methodically picked the veteran apart (Watanabe’s record was 30-6), showcasing tremendous hand speed and footwork. By the time it was over, Watanabe seemed exhausted, while Ito looked as fresh as in the opening round. In the end, Ito left with the unanimous decision and the unified OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific belts.
After knocking out the much more experienced Lorenzo Villanueva (33-2) in a WBO Asia Pacific defense, Ito’s focus was finally shifted to the world championship hunt. The Japanese superstar added 2 more stoppages to his already impressive record before going toe to toe with undefeated Puerto Rican boxer Christopher Diaz (23-0), this past July, for the vacant WBO Super Featherweight World Title. In a thrilling encounter between two hungry young lions, Ito and Diaz had one of the best world title fights of 2018, with both men going back and forth, swinging for the fences, for 36 unforgettable minutes. Ito’s game was much more precise and well calculated, which became even more evident during the fourth round, as he dropped Diaz with an incredibly fast right-right-left-right combination. After the dust had settled, Masayuki Ito left Florida as the new WBO World Champion.
However, Ito’s journey will only get tougher and tougher at this point, as the best in the division will attempt to claim his crown for their own. Before we even get to the next year, he is tasked to defend his belt against another fighter with a flawless record, coming all the way from Russia.
Evgeny Chuprakov (20-10/10 KOs) is the Number 1 ranked Super Featherweight by the WBO. A cracking fighter, who made his debut in 2011, has dominated the Russian scene from early on, winning their National championship in just his seventh match.
On September of 2015, his skills were tested against a former IBF World Champion, Dmitry Kirillov (31-6). Despite being a relative young fighter to the game still, Chuprakov looked like the real pro, out-boxing Kirillov and shockingly stopping him in the eight round, after landing a devastating liver shot, rendering the veteran unable to continue. Evgeny left Yekaterinburg with the biggest win of his career, plus the WBO European title.
Chuprakov went on to defend his belt twice, against Timur Akhundov and German champion Sebastian Tlatlik. Tlatlik, who was undefeated at the time, was dropped by an overhand right in the second round and continued to endure a plethora of strikes, until the fifth, which left the referee with no choice but to stop the fight. The Russian prodigy also captured the vacant WBO Intercontinental strap the following year, after a hard fought battle with another undefeated fighter, Jeremiah Nakathila. His first title defense was against Eden Sonsona, a former WBC International Silver champion who hadn’t lost a fight since 2010. Evgeny knocked him down twice (in the 3rd & 4th round), much to the joy of the Russian fans. The fight ended in the fifth again, since Sonsona couldn’t withstand the beating that he was receiving. With 2 more wins under his belt, Chuprakov was finally named the mandatory challenger for the WBO World Championship.
This is a significant fight for both the challenger as well as the champion. Chuprakov’s entire career has been leading up to this point, realizing his dream of winning the big one, a task which won’t be easily accomplished, especially since he’s taking the champion on his home turf. At the same time, Ito is still eager to prove himself, to the fans and to the critics alike, as he never got the opportunity to fight Lomachenko, thus never got to defeat the former champion for the belt he currently holds. This will be a clash of 2 strong, intelligent and fast boxers, whose styles are very similar to each other. So it all comes down to this: Who wants it more? Who is ready to make history? Who can go that extra mile? Only a few days left until we find out.By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
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.