The Minimumweight division has been an interesting one recently, which has been given more attention than usual due to Thailand's Wanheng Menayothin reaching 51-0 and breaking the 50-0 record of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Despite the increase in attention it's had, that attention really hasn't been spread across the whole division, and that's a shame given that the division is actually really interesting at the moment. Not only do you have Wanheng with a world title but also the incredibly exciting Vic Saludar and, at the time of writing, the brilliantly named Knockout CP Freshmart. The division also has rising contenders and Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi who are both exciting, heavy handed and talented fighters who will find themselves in the mix for years to come.
Another fighter who is expected to be in mix for the coming years is Filipino maestro Mark Anthony Barriga (9-0, 1), who looks to become the IBF champion this coming Saturday, as he takes on fellow unbeaten and Carlos Licona (13-0, 2) for the vacant title.
The title was vacated earlier this year by Hiroto Kyoguchi, who decided to move up in weight. Prior to vacating Barriga had earned the mandatory position for a title shot, with Licona being ordered by the IBF to be the co-challenger for the vacant title. After several weeks of talks it ended up on this weekend's big card from the US, giving both fighters the chance to capitalise on a big show.
For those that haven't seen Barriga he has regularly been compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr. He is one of the most naturally skilled fighters in the sport, with amazing movement, timing and ring craft. He understands distance like very few fighters in the sport and can make good fighters look like rank novices just from his understanding of the ring. His one flaw is that he lacks power, he really is one of the lightest punchers in the sport, but he's a very crisp puncher, who's accurate, sharp and clean with his work.
The Filipino has only been a professional since July 2016 but has already impressed, with particularly notable wins against former world title challengers Samartlek Kokietgym and Gabriel Mendoza, barely losing a round in those bouts combined.
The 23 Mexican born American Licona made his debut in December 2014 and has fought in Mexico, the US and Puerto Rico. Though his career his most notable opponent has been former world title challenger Janiel Rivera, and that's really his only win against an opponent of any name value.
Sadly there is very little footage of Licona, so it's hard to know much about his style, though given his record, and his lack of stoppages, we can assume he's not a puncher. His only stoppages so far both came in his first 4 bouts and since then he's not found anything closing in a stoppage. That's not to say not hitting hard will be an issue here, but it's one thing would help when fighting Barriga. What we expect to see is Licona to be another talented, slick boxer.
We could rave about how good we thing Barriga is, but the reality that we don't think we'll need to. Instead we think Barriga will shine here and will turn heads with a mature, skilled and excellent performance of boxing. We suspect it'll be a performance that will please the purists, rather than the fans looking for excitement, but we're pretty confident that Barriga will put on an exhibition against Licona and come out on top.
We know that's a risky prediction, given how little we've managed to see of Licona, but we're confident that Barriga really is that good, and is the most technically skilled fighter at 105lbs, by quite some margin.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 28, the WBA Minimumweight World Champion Thammanoon Niyomtrong will make his 6th defense, against the man, whom he beat for that very title, Byron Rojas.
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (18-0/7 KOs), also known as Knockout CP Freshmart, just like the majority of the boxers from Thailand, he began his fighting career as a Muay Thai fighter. During that time, he managed to win the Thai National as well as the Lumpinee & Rajadamnern Stadium titles, which are considered to be the sport’s most prestigious championships. By doing so, Niyomtrong has made himself a member of that elite group of men, who have held Muay Thai & Boxing world titles, such as Saensak Muangsurin, Samart Payakaroon and Veeraphol Sahaprom.
He made his pro boxing debut in 2012, and in just 2 years he won 8 fights, 6 of those via KO/TKO. On November of 2014, he took on Carlos Buitrago for the interim WBA Minimumweight World title. Niyomtrong put on a boxing clinic, keeping the pressure on for the entirety of the match, not slowing down for a single minute. Despite suffering a nasty cut at his left eye, his superior striking and counter game earned him the unanimous decision victory that night, thus the interim belt. Their rematch in 2016, was pretty much the same, only this time, Niyomtrong was even more dominant than before.
Knockout CP Freshmart defended the interim WBA title against 2 time World champion Muhammad Rachman, back in 2015. As in the aforementioned bout, the champ kept peppering Rachman constantly for 12 rounds. To the Indonesian’s credit, he never went down and also had a good offense, but nothing game changing. In the end, Niyomtrong showcased incredible hand speed and movement, to once again leave with the gold.
In 2016 he faced the WBA World champion Byron Rojas in a unification fight. Niyomtrong was going for the clinch, every time after throwing a good combination or got tagged, slowing the pace down, in what was a smart but less than exciting strategy, that secured him the win. 6 months later, Niyomtrong successfully defended his world title for the 1st time against former OPBF Light Flyweight champion Shin Ono, after dropping him in the 10th round and continued the assault until the closing bell. He also stopped former Japanese champion Go Odaira, with a sweet right cross in the 5th, after punishing him with a plethora of body shots.
After retaining the world title 2 more times, against Rey Loreto and Toto Landero, he squared off against former WBC World Champion Chaozhong Xiong, this past July, in China. After a relatively slow start to the match, Niyomtrong caught Xiong with a perfectly timed right cross to the chin, during the 3rd round, stunning the former champion momentarily. The action then picked up, as both fighters were trading punches, with the Thai boxer getting the better of these exchanges. Since Niyomtrong was the one pushing the action for the vast majority of the fight, he was awarded the decision, improving his record to a perfect 18-0.
Knockout CP Freshmart will now come face to face again with Byron Rojas (25-3/11 KOs), in a rematch 2.5 years in the making. The Nicaraguan’s biggest achievement was winning a close decision over the WBA Super World Minimumweight Champion Hekkie Budler (now the WBA Light Flyweight World Champion), back in 2016. After losing the title, he has been undefeated in his last 8 fights, including a victory over former WBC Silver champion Carlos Ortega, which was an action-packed eight rounder. Niyomtrong has had tougher challenges in that same timeframe, which has allowed him to improve his skills even further, in comparison to Rojas who has battled against lesser opponents. At that point, it’s safe to say that the Thai fighter will once again walk out with the victory. The real question is, what’s next for Niyomtrong. A unification bout with another champion, like Vic Saludar (IBF) or maybe it’s time for the former Muay Thai king to try his hand at Light Flyweight ? Only time will tell.
The sport of boxing might still be a sport where two fighters hit each other inside a ring trying to either render their opponent unconscious or win a decision, but outside of the ring there is a lot of changes, with one of the biggest ones stateside being HBO's decision to leave boxing. The US television giant was once a cornerstone of boxing television in the US and the premier channel for bouts Stateside. Their long relationship with the sport however comes to end shortly.
One of the very final shows that HBO will air will be headlined by a WBA Light Heavyweight title clash between Kyrgyzstan born Russian champion Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11) and Haitian born Canadian Jean Pascal (33-5-1-1, 20). It's not the most amazing of bouts, but it should be a good chance for Bivol to end an impressive year and do so against an opponent with some name value, albeit a faded name.
The 27 year old Bivol has been impressive ever since making his debut in 2014, against the experienced Jorge Rodriguez Olivera. Unlike many prospects he hasn't been softly matched at all, and he's never faced a fighter with a losing record, in fact the least notable opponent he's faced so far is Yevgenii Makhteienko who surprisingly lasted 10 rounds with Bivol in 2016. In just 14 fights he has already stamped his name as one of the leading fighters at Light Heavyweight, alongside Eleider alvarez, Adonis Stevenson, Badou Jack and Artur Beterbiev. Unlike those others however he's a relative spring chicken at 27 years old, in what appears to be a division full of older men at the top.
In the ring Bivol is an aggressive yet technical fighter, who fights to a relatively text book style, but at a very high tempo. He's a crisp, clean puncher, with good variety to his work, an excellent output and under-rated defense. If we're being honest the most impressive thing about him isn't his high output, but the fact he can keep it up for all 12 rounds. Sadly he can look a bit predictable, and a smart, well educated and unorthodox fighter can give him problems, as we saw earlier this year against Isaac Chilemba who really tested Bivol, for the first time in his career. We suspect some seasoning, and experience will help there, though there is a feeling that he lacks in terms of ingenuity, and won't be inventive in how he approaches certain opponents. That's not too much of an issue, given his plan A is so effective, but would be one possible improvement for him going forward.
At 36 years old Pascal is one of the many Light Heavyweights who are sticking around the top 10 but are past their physical primes. In fact Pascal may be the most war worn and damaged of the older men in the division, given he has had so many tough fights during his 40 fight career. He has been competing around the top of the sport for a decade, with his 2008 war with Carl Froch living long in the memory. Since facing Froch for the WBC Super Middleweight title he has shared the ring with the likes of Adrian Diaconu, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucian Bute, Sergey Kovalev, Yunieski Gonzalez and Elerider Alvarez. A real who's who. Sadly for Pascal he has taken a lot of punishment in those fights, and was twice stopped by Kovalev. In more recent years those battles have taken a toll on him, and his reliance on heart, natural explosiveness and athleticism has proven to be problematic, as his body has taken significant damage and aged.
At his best Pascal was a blood and guts warrior, with heavy hands, real quickness, and an awkward style that depended heavily on his explosiveness. As he's aged his legs have slowed, his hands are not quite as quick as they were, his power's not as effective with the loss of speed and his chin isn't what it once was. He's still awkward, but he's probably about 6 years from his peak, and that's an issue against a young gun like Bivol.
At his best Pascal would have made for a very tricky assignment for Bivol. The unorthodox style of Pascal, who regularly leaped in and came at opponents from peculiar angles, would have given the text book style of Bivol real questions to answer. Sadly however this faded Pascal will be unlikely to give Bivol much of a fight, and will instead be expected to be chewed up and stopp in the middle or later rounds, as Bivol moves towards unification contests in 2019.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 12, in the legendary Korakuen Hall, Tomoki Kameda will try to become a 2 division world champion as he takes on Abigail Medina for the interim WBC Super Bantamweight World Championship.
The younger brother of Koki and Daiki Kameda, Tomoki belongs in one of the most successful families in the history of boxing, will all 3 siblings eventually winning the big one. Unlike most Japanese fighters who stay and train in Japan, he moved to Mexico when he was just 15 years old, in order to learn more about the sport and to hone his craft. Tomoki managed to reach the finals of the Guantes de Oro Tournament (Mexican for Golden Gloves) and only lost to the current WBC Super Bantamweight World Champion, Rey Vargas. Because of his young age, he wasn’t allowed to compete in the 2008 Olympic Games, so instead of waiting, Tomoki decided to turn pro.
Tomoki (35-2 / 20 KOs) became quite popular in Mexico, since he spent the vast majority of his career in that country, earning the nickname El Mexicanito. His style of fighting used to be very aggressive, which was evident by his KO ratio. Prior to winning the world title, he finished 18 of his 27 pro bouts. Some of his early career big victories included numerous world title contenders like Eduardo Garcia, Marlon Marquez and Noldi Manakane, plus securing the WBC Silver Bantamweight championship.
On August 1st 2013, Tomoki made history on multiple fronts when he defeated Paulus Ambunda, who was 20-0 at the time, for the WBO Bantamweight World Championship, in the Philippines. Not only did he become the first ever Japanese boxer to hold a WBO World title, but also after Daiki’s world title victory in September of the same year, the Kamedas earned a place at the Guinness World Records for “most siblings to win boxing world titles”.
As World champion, he adapted a more technical style, a “safer” style, in comparison to his former much wilder approach. El Mexicanito marked 3 successful title defenses, against Immanuel Naidjala, interim champion Alejandro Hernandez as well as former World champion Panya Uthok. Out of all 3, his bout with Uthok was the toughest. With 46 wins on his record and only 2 decision loses, the Thai boxer kept rocking Tomoki in every round, stunning him on multiple occasions throughout the match. The tide turned during the 7th round, when Kameda started nailing Uthok with a couple of uppercuts, thus creating an opening to throw a devastating liver shot that dropped the former champ down for the count. That was the first time Uthok has been stopped in his career. Tomoki was declared “fighter of the month” (July 2014) by the WBO, after that performance.
In May of 2015, Tomoki was scheduled to face the WBA Bantamweight World Champion Jamie McDonnell, in a unification bout. However, the WBO wouldn’t sanction the fight so Tomoki relinquished his belt so he could compete for the WBA championship. Despite dropping McDonnell in the 3rd round, the Japanese challenger didn’t do much in the rest of the fight, thus failing to capture the gold. Their rematch in September saw both men in a very close encounter, going back and forth, in an exciting affair. Tomoki could have been crowned the new champion but McDonnell made sure he was leaving Texas with his belt when he scored a knockdown in the last round, swaying the judges in his favour.
When Tomoki returned to the ring after a 13 month hiatus, he moved up a weight class and has been undefeated in his last 4 matches. In his most recent bout against Daniel Noriega, this past May, we saw glimpses of the old Mexicanito, fighting in a much more aggressive pace, even dropping Noriega in the 5th round. Now three years removed from his previous world title contest, Tomoki will try and capture another division’s grand prize, but in order to do so, he must go through first the EBU European champion Abigail Medina (19-3 / 10 KOs).
Medina has also been a pro for 10 years, but unlike Tomoki, he doesn’t have the same level of experience or success. His biggest victories are against fellow European champions Jeremy Parodi (42-4), Anthony Settoul (23-7) and one time world title contender Martin Ward (26-4). Specifically, he stopped Settoul in the first round with body punches, a weapon that Tomoki also uses frequently in his matches, while he stopped Ward, in just 2 rounds, after repeatedly kept knocking him down with a vicious right punch to the head. His style of fighting actually resembles Kameda’s old “Mexican style” a lot.
Comparing these 2 boxers, Tomoki certainly has the advantage here. He’s the younger, much more experienced competitor and with a better record. Medina however is way more hungry at this stage of his career. He knows this will probably be his one and only shot at the World Championship. Moreover, Medina’s been undefeated since 2014, with 10 wins and 5 stoppages, proving he’s an aggressive striker. On the other hand, if we see the Tomoki of old, on November 12, we are almost guaranteed that Japan will have another World champion, before the year is over. For Mexicanito, winning the interim WBC title, it will be the perfect opportunity to set a future collision with the man that defeated him 10 plus years ago, Rey Vargas, avenging his only amateur loss. So who will it be? We will find out in a week’s time, in Tokyo, Japan!
This coming Saturday we find out who will be the fourth of the World Boxing Super Series Bantamweight Semi-Finalists, as unbeaten Northern Irish fighter Ryan Burnett (19-0, 9) takes on Filipino icon Nonito Donaire (38-5, 24) in the final bout of the quarter final stage. Not only is the bout a WBSS bout, to decide who faces Zolani Tete in the next round of the competition, but it will also see Burnett defending his WBA "Super" Bantamweight title, in what will be his second defense of the title.
Of the two fighters Donaire is the more well known, and in fact he is one of the few lower weight fighters who has made a mark across the globe. He's well known in his native Philippines, he's fought much of his career in North America, often fighting Latin Americans and has also managed one to fight in Europe, losing to the popular Carl Frampton last time out. Whilst he is very well known he is unfortunately a faded star, and he actually turns 36 in just a few weeks time. He's not a young 36 either, having been a professional since 2001 and fighting at world level pretty consistently since his 2007 upset win over Vic Darchinyan. Donaire has also been matched against a veritable who's who from Flyweight to Featherweight, sharing the ring with the likes of Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Fenando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nicholas Walters and Carl Frampton, just to name a few. His career has seen him rise from a fresh faced young Flyweight champion to a Featherweight champion as a veteran.
In the ring Donaire is a fighter who has been blessed with brutal power, a good ring IQ and solid boxing fundamentals. Sadly in his prime he wasn't the most active and often seemed to be the type of fighter who looked to land the perfect punch, even when he moved up in weight his power was devastating, though his activity never really impressed and at times he could be made to look very predictable by defensively minded fighters, with the older, smaller Narvaez making him look 1 paced and Rigondeaux making him look clumsy. Now, in his mid 30's, he's lost some speed, his mobility isn't what it once was and with his low work rate doesn't allow him to chip away at opponents. He also has a huge question mark over his ability to safely make Bantamweight, and what he will have left in him when he gets in the ring. That's a major issue given he hasn't made the weight in over 7 years!
At 26 years old Burnett is one of the youngest fighters in the Bantamweight WBSS and is also one of the more accomplished from the young bunch, having won the IBF title in June 2017 and unifying it with the WBA "Super" title just a few months later. Sadly mandatory obligations for the WBA and IBF saw him vacating the IBF title, which is now held by fellow WBSS competitor Emmanuel Rodriguez. Not only is he an accomplished fighter but Burnett is a former amateur standout who has a fantastic boxing brain, a good engine and a brilliant awareness in the ring. He's slippery, awkward, sharp and a great mover. Sadly however Burnett does lack power and has gone the distance in his last 8 bouts, whilst showing little killer instinct and no real interest in hunting a stoppage. One wonders whether he has that extra gear and spitefulness that he'll need to win the WBSS, or whether he's simply too nice and lacks the teeth to get past the likes of Naoya Inoue and Zolani Tete. Despite the criticism few can doubt his ability and wins over the likes of Jason Booth, Lee Haskins, Zhant Zhakiyanov and Yonfrez Parejo really do prove that.
The key for the champion here is to out manoeuvre, the Filipino veteran. Burnett has the speed to make this look very easy, as long as he can avoid the power of the Filipino. Donaire will however be dangerous through out the bout, and if the Filipino has made weight without harming himself too much that power will be as devastating as ever, if he can land a perfect counter. Burnett is the naturally smaller man, giving away notable height and reach to the Filipino, but his edge in speed, activity and youth should be enough for him to take home the win, and retain his title whilst moving on to the next round of the WBSS.
We'd love to see one more great performance from Donaire, who has been a key figure in the lower weights for a decade. The reality however is that his great career is coming to an end, and although he might have one great performance in him we don't think that'll come here against a man who could make the Filipino look very old if he wishes. Donaire's toughness should keep him in the bout, and his power will always make him dangerous, but we see him losing a very lopsided decision to the baby faced Burnett.
One of the best divisions in the sport right now is the Light Flyweight division, which is stacked with talent, has been matching the top fighters against each other consistently and it has such a varied array of styles that there really is something there for everyone.
This coming Monday fight fans in the Philippines get another great bout between top divisional fighters as local hopeful Randy Petalcorin (29-2-1, 22) finally gets a world title fight. Sadly for Petalcorin he will be going up against one of the division's most feared fighters, Nicaraguan puncher Felix Alvarado (33-2, 29), in a bout for the vacant IBF title.
The Filipino is a 26 year old southpaw who has been around the professional scene for close to a decade. His career has promised a lot, but the reality is that he's yet to score a really big win and live up to the expectation that many in the Philippines have had for him.
Petalcorin would scored 5 straight stoppage wins to begin his career before coming up short against a then unknown Marlon Tapales, who would later go on to claim the WBO Bantamweight title. He would rebuild from that loss by advancing his record from 5-1 to 23-1-1 (18) before a controversial loss to Omari Kimweri in Australia in 2016. Sadly the 19 fight unbeaten run between those two losses lacked in terms of notable wins, with perhaps the best of them being over Walter Tello, Ma Yiming and Samartlek Kokietgym.
Since losing to Kimweri Petalcorin has bounced back with 6 straight wins coming into this bout.
In the ring Petalcorin is a razor sharp boxer-puncher. He's shown those skills through his career and few will question his smoothness in the ring. He can switch from head to body with ease, can counter punch excellently and he looks amazing when he's facing over-matched foes, as we saw when he travelled to China and demolished Yiming with smooth combinations and brilliant clean punching. Sadly though there is a feeling that Petalcorin looking great against lower tier fighters says more about his competition than about him.
If Petalcorin can step up here and perform as good as he has against lesser men then he has a genuine chance, but this is a big step up for him.
Nicaraguan fighter Alvarado has been a professional since 2010 and the 29 year old has built himself a reputation as a man to fear. He would begin his career by running up 18 straight wins, 15 by stoppage, whilst fighting mostly on the Nicaraguan domestic scene. In 2013 he would step up massively and face Kazuto Ioka for the WBA Light Flyweight title, though came up short against the Japanese fighter. The following year Alvarado would suffer his second loss, losing in a competitive bout against Juan Carlos Reveco. Since those losses Alvarado has been on a tear going 15-0 (14). This time his run hasn't just come against domestic level opponents but also fringe contenders, such as Yader Cardoza, Jose Antonio Jimenez and most notable Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr.
As a fighter Alvarado can be out boxed, he out manoeuvred, out sped and out thought. However he's a massive puncher, an all out monster on the front foot and he seems to have a solid engine with a very gritty and determined toughness. He can be his, though has under-rated defense, and boy can he punch himself. He's crude, a little clumsy, a bit open and pretty technically limited, but he is such a dangerous fighter that few will take risks against him, especially given that his power is potent to both head and body.
We believe that if Petalcorin can box to his best, for 12 rounds, uses his legs and jab and never trades with the Nicaraguan, he can take a decision here, especially with the home advantage. It is however a massive ask and Alvarado will be after him from the first bell, and will be looking to break down the Filipino. Sadly for Petalcorin we suspect the power, toughness and drive of Alvarado will be too much in the end.
No matter who wins here we're assured of some great bouts down the line, with the division being so packed with talent that the winner will struggle to find an easy defense any time soon.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On October 20, Olympic Gold Medalist Ryota Murata will make his second defense of the WBA Middleweight World Title against Rob Brant, in the States.
Ryota Murata (14-1 / 11 KOs) is one of Japan’s biggest boxing superstars. Names like Naoya Inoue, Kosei Tanaka, Hiroto Kyoguchi, Kazuto Ioka (and more), who all are now (current or former) world champions, have had quite the accomplished amateur careers, but none like his. It could take an entire article of its own so I will try and keep this as short as possible. Murata managed to win the prestigious All Japan Championship 5 times, in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, as well as earning the bronze at the 2005 Asian Championships, the silver at the 2005 King’s Cup in Bangkok and the silver again at the 2011 World Championships. In 2012, he finally realized his dream of becoming an Olympic champion, thus making history on multiple fronts, as he became Japan’s only second boxer to win a gold medal at the Olympics, the other being Takao Sakurai in 1964, almost half a century ago, and the first ever Japanese boxer to win it in the middleweight division. During his illustrious amateur run, which lasted nearly a decade, he fought and beat several major names like Abbos Atoev, a gold medalist at the 2007 & 2009 World Championships and Esquiva Falcao, a silver medalist at the 2012 Olympic Games, who turned pro in 2014 and has amassed a record of 21 wins and zero losses (currently ranked #6 by the WBA at the middleweight division). Murata’s amateur record is 119-18, with 89 referee stoppages.
Murata made his much anticipated pro debut in 2013 against former Japanese & OPBF champion Akio Shibata (21-7*) at the Ariake Colosseum. He proved his dominance by knocking Akio down in just the first round and causing the referee to step in the second after putting a beating on the veteran fighter. After despatching Dave Peterson (13-1*), in a one sided beat down, he faced former world title contender Carlos Nascimento (29-3*). In the third round, Murata landed a lighting fast uppercut, followed by a nice combination of punches that floored Carlos. The punishment continued throughout the fourth as well, leading to the TKO win.
Basically Murata’s pro run can be described with one word: Destruction! Besides 3 decision victories, he has stopped everyone who has been in the ring with. Jesus Angel Nerio (12-4*) fell victim to his patented right straight, much like Gaston Alejandro Vega (24-10) and Felipe Santos Pedroso (13-1). Douglas Ataide (13-1*) actually gave Murata one competitive round, but in the end, he shared the same fate as the rest. His fights with George Tahdooahnippah (34-2*) and Bruno Sandoval (19-1*) weren’t even close. Possibly his two most dominant wins to date.
On May 20 of 2017, the Olympian was ready to make history once more when he met interim champion Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (35-2*) for the vacant WBA Middleweight World Title. The Japanese challenger scored an early knockdown in the fourth round, courtesy of a right straight to the jaw of Hassan, much to the delight of the fans in Tokyo. He almost dropped him again in the next but Hassan held his ground and came back firing shots. The fight turned out to be a back and forth affair, with Murata turning the heat up in the later rounds, catching the interim champ flash on numerous occasions. Both men went from punch to punch until the closing bell. Everyone was expecting for Murata to be crowned the new world champion, as he was always a step ahead of Hassan, for the majority of the bout. However, 2 of the judges didn’t see it that way, since they awarded the French fighter with the split decision and the title. The crowd started booing heavily, which it’s not something we see very often in Japan, unless there’s a dubious decision or any unprofessional conduct from the fighters’ side.
The rematch was set for October of the same year. Murata, much like in their previous encounter, had the upper hand, as he kept rocking the champion constantly with his right straight punches and body shots, all the time. It quickly became like every other Murata fight, where his opponent was practically helpless against his power and speed. After the seventh round, Hassan simply gave up, refusing to continue the fight. As a result, Murata was declared the new World Champion. 5 years later after winning gold in London, Ryota Murata wrote history again as not only he became just the second Japanese to win a middleweight world title in boxing (Shinji Takehara won the WBA belt back in 1995) but also the very first Japanese boxer to win both an Olympic Gold and a World Championship.
His first defense took place this past April, when he stopped former EBU champion Emanuele Felice Blandamura (27-2*), in the eight round. Also a historic win as he became the first Japanese Middleweight World Champion to successfully defend the belt atleast once (Shinji Takehara lost the title in his one and only defense).
Murata’s next challenger will be American fighter Rob Brant (23-1 / 16 KOs), this Saturday in Las Vegas. It’s obvious that Brant is nowhere near the Olympian’s level. His brawling style will not work here against Murata, who can fight you in a phone booth or can knock you out with a right straight, which you probably won’t even see it coming. At this point of his career, Murata needs bigger challenges like David Lemieux (40-4), Kamil Szeremeta (18-0), Esquiva Falcao (21-0) which will be intriguing given their history, or the former world champion himself Gennady Golovkin (38-1) who had expressed interest in fighting Murata in the past.
Actually, a battle with GGG would make more sense, especially now that Murata is the sole WBA Middleweight World Champion (the super champion Canelo vacated the belt when he decided to move up a weight class). Considering that his 2 fights with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam drew close to 30 million viewers, in Japan alone, a clash with the former middleweight kingpin at the Tokyo Dome, would be one of the ages. Plus, if that match is to take place, it will be the first time a Japanese boxer has main evented the Big Egg. But for all that to happen, Murata must finish with this mandatory challenge first, which in my opinion, shouldn’t be that hard. The best is yet to come for Japan’s favourite son!
*Fighter’s record prior to the fight mentioned.
This coming Sunday we see the Bantamweight version of the World Boxing Super Series kick off, with Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue (16-0, 14) facing off with former world champion Carlos Payano (20-1, 9) in the inaugural bout. Not only will it kick off the next weight at the WBSS but it will also serve as Inoue's first defense of the WBA “regular” Bantamweight title, a belt that he won earlier this year when he blitzed Jamie McDonnell.
The tournament, which features Inoue and Payano, alongside Ryan Burnett, Zolani Tete, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Jason Moloney, Nonito Donaire and Mikhail Aloyan, is expected to see 3 titles unified and have global interest. The weight is the lowest to be featured in the WBSS and is expected to give the Bantamweight division the spotlight it deserve, and a spotlight that had previous been shone on the Cruiserweight division, helping Oleksandr Usyk become a major name.
In Japan “Monster” Inoue is already a massive star. He's not only one of the most significant men in Japanese boxing but is popularity is up there with the biggest names in Japanese sport in general. The young sensation was hyped ahead of his debut, with promoter Hideyuki Ohashi proudly telling the boxing world how good Inoue was, and the fighter has since delivered, proving elite level prospects don't need to be matched softly. Within just 16 fights, and 92 rounds, he has already notched up wins against Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez, Omar Andres Narvaez, Kohei Kono and Jamie McDonnell. In scoring those 16 wins he has claimed the Japanese, OPBF and WBC titles at Light Flyweight, the WBO title at Super Flyweight and the WBA regular title at Bantamweight.
In the ring there is very little Inoue can't do. He's lighting quick, very physically strong for such a big man, scarily heavy handed, brilliant at cutting the ring off and improve all the time. Early in his career there was some defensive issues, sometimes he dropped his concentration and there was a little bit of over-confidence but that now seems to have vanished and he's about as perfect of an offensive machine we currently have in professional boxing. There are still some defensive things to work on, but he's not as defensively naive as he once was, and when he chooses to box on the move there are few fighters with the skills or speed to connect on him.
At 34 years old American based Dominican fighter Juan Carlos Payano is pretty much in last chance saloon. A loss to Inoue likely spells the end of his hopes of becoming a 2-time champion. He is however a pretty notable fighter in his own right. As an amateur he is a 2-time Olympian, fighting in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, a 2-time World Amateur Championship competitor, competing in 2005 and 2009. As a professional he is a former WBA “super” champion at Bantamweight, and has notable wins over Anselmo Moreno and Rau'shee Warren to his name at world level. Sadly though he would lose the WBA belt to Warren in a rematch and since then scored 3 relatively low key wins, including one over Filipino prospect Mike Plania who dropped Payano back in March.
At his best Payano was a pretty good fighter, you don't beat Moreno and Warren without being good, but there was fortune in both of those wins. The victory over Payano came from a technical decision, which many watching seemed to feel went the wrong way, whilst the win over Warren was a messy foul-fest with multiple deductions and saw Payano being dropped in the final round. Given those wins were several years ago now and he's 34 years old he's a long way removed from his prime. Despite being such a good amateur he's sloppy, wild and doesn't have much power on his shots.
The southpaw stance of Payano is expected to be the biggest issue for Inoue, but is something he's been working hard on in preparation for this contest. The Japanese fighter should be too quick, too sharp, too powerful and too intense for Payano. Inoue might take a shot or two whilst cutting the distance but it's hard to see anyway in which Payano survives with the Monster, never mind upsets the star from Kanagawa. Inoue by stoppage seems almost a foregone conclusion as he looks to add the WBSS' Muhammad Ali trophy to his collection of professional crowns.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On October 6 at the Yokohama Arena, Kenshiro defends the WBC Light Flyweight World Championship against Milan Melindo.
Ken Shiro (13-0 / 7 KOs) belongs in the bright new generation of Japanese boxers like Naoya Inoue, Ryota Murata and Kosei Tanaka. He was introduced to the sport, from a very young age, by his father Hisashi Teraji, a former OPBF light heavyweight champion. Shiro’s amateur career lasted 7 years, from 2007 to 2014, accumulating a record of 58-16. His most significant accomplishments were winning the 68th National Sports Festival (light flyweight division), which is considered to be Japan’s premier sports event, as well as placing second at the All Japan Championships.
Turned pro in 2014, he displayed his fighting spirit early on by taking on fighters, way more experienced than him, such as Heri Amol (36-17*), Katsunori Nagamine (10-0*), Takashi Omae (13-4*) and Rolly Sumalpong (9-0*). On December of 2015, Shiro was in a thrilling encounter with Kenichi Horikawa (30-13*) for the Japanese Light Flyweight Title. Despite having only 5 pro fights under his belt, Shiro went toe to toe with the veteran for 10 rounds, which kept the fans at Korakuen on their feet, applauding the effort of both men. When the fight was over, the young lion left the victor and the new Japanese champion.
After that breakout performance, Shiro made his inaugural defense over one time world title contender Atsushi Kakutani (17-4*). The “Smiling Assassin” was absolutely dominant, knocking Atsushi down thrice, in just the first round, for the TKO win. On August of 2016, he also acquired the vacant OPBF crown when he defeated Toshimasa Ouchi (20-8*), as well as defended it once against Lester Abutan (11-5*), who he crushed with a lethal flurry of punches in the third round.
The unstoppable Japanese superstar eventually earned his big opportunity, on May of last year, as he challenged Ganigan Lopez (33-6*) for the WBC Light Flyweight World Championship, at the Ariake Colosseum. Both challenger and champion fought valiantly, in a very close encounter, which undoubtedly was the biggest test of Shiro’s career. “El Maravilla” had won the belt a year before, from Yu Kimura, and was determined to leave Japan once again with it. Shiro on the other hand, wasn’t going to let his moment go to waste. It was a hard hitting contest that saw the Japanese fighter took on a heavy beating but kept on coming back with strong offense of his own. During the last round, Lopez and Shiro left it all in the ring, as they engaged in a wild brawl, which was the perfect conclusion to this bout. In the end, the judges scored the match in favor of Ken Shiro, thus declaring him the new world champion, at the age of 25.
Shiro proceeded to defend his title, the same year, twice. His first challenger was former world champion Pedro Guevara (30-2*). It was a slow and methodical contest which turned into a slugfest during the last 4 rounds. Shiro showcased his incredible hand speed and body work, which led him getting the majority decision. His second one was Gilberto Pedroza (18-3*). It was a one-sided affair that ended violently in the 4th round, when the champ stormed Pedroza with a plethora of body shots.
On May of 2018, the rematch between Shiro and Lopez was set to take place at Ota-City’s General Gymnasium. Many fans and critics alike believed that the Mexican was robbed in their previous encounter and expected him to regain his championship. In a stunning turn of events, Shiro stopped Lopez in just the second round after he landed a well calculated right hook to the body, leaving the former champ unable to answer the referee’s 10 count, plus putting any doubts of his legitimacy to rest. His fourth title defense will take place this weekend against Milan Melindo.
Milan Melindo (37-3 / 13 KOs), a 13 year professional as well as a one time IBF World Champion, has faced top competition almost his entire career. He holds notable victories over former world champions, including Hekkie Budler (also current WBA Light Flyweight World Champion), Muhammad Rachman and Carlos Tamara. His most significant win was against 3 division world champion Akira Yaegashi who he TKOed in less than 3 minutes, on May of 2017. Even his losses are to former world champions (Juan Francisco Estrada, Javier Mendoza, Ryoichi Taguchi) and all of them have come via decision. He may not be a knockout artist but he’s known for his fast combinations, much like Shiro is.
Stylistically this is a great match-up. Both men have fought and beat some of the best boxers in the division and have displayed a fast paced but technical style of fighting. Since neither Shiro nor Melindo have ever been stopped during their careers, it’s difficult to make a prediction. What will be the difference maker ? Will it be the experience factor of the Filipino challenger or will it be the slickness and deadly bodywork of the Japanese champion, which has kept him undefeated until now ? These questions will be answered this Sunday.
*Fighter’s record prior to the fight mentioned.
The second set of WBSS tournaments begin this coming weekend in Yokohama.
The first bout in the competition is mouth watering clash at 140lbs as we get pressure fighter against puncher with Kiryl Relikh (22-2, 19) facing off with Eduard Troyanovsky (27-1, 24). On paper this has the potential to be a very explosive encounter, with both fighters being aggressive, both fighters looking for earlier finishes and both men wanting to advance in the WBSS. Not only is this a WBSS bout but also a contest for the WBA Light Welterweight title and a chance for both men to shine in front a Japanese audience in the arena.
Relikh, a Belorussian 28 year old, is the defending champion and the betting favourite. He's an aggressive pressure fighter dubbed the “Mad Bee” because of his aggression. He was a very good amateur before turning professional in 2011. As a professional his career was a bit of a slow burner, with no massive backing in Belarus for boxing. Despite the slow burn he was developing well in his homeland and stayed busy during the formative years of his professional career. He would begin to get chances outside of Belarus in 2014 and linked up with Ricky Hatton. Hatton would guide Relikh to his first major international fight in 2016, a narrow and ultra-competitive loss to Ricky Burns. Despite being a loss it put Relikh on the boxing map and has since lead to two bout with Rances Barthelmy. The first of them was a very controversial loss for the Belorussian who avenged the defeat in clear fashion when the two men had their rematch earlier this year.
In the ring Relikh lives up to his “Mad Bee” moniker. He's incredibly busy, buzzing around his opponents and throwing a lot of heavy leather. He's not a big hitting single punch KO artist, despite his 19 stoppages, but he's a busy fighter with every shot taking it's toll on his opponents. His work rate is a bigger issue than his power and at 28 years old he is just getting fitter and stronger. Sadly though is defensively not the tightest and he was dropped in the first bout against Barthelmy. So he can be hurt, especially to the body, and can find himself taking shots that her perhaps doesn't want to take. It's actually, also, worth noting that despite his average bout being just over 4 rounds he has got great stamina to do 12 rounds, which he's done in his last 3 bouts.
At 38 years old Troyanovsky is an older fighter but he hasn't had too much wear and tear. In fact if anything the Russian has done really well in avoiding taking any sort of prolonged damage due to the fact he is a frightening puncher. His 24 stoppages in 27 wins has seen him average just 3.4 rounds a fight and has seen him score some sensation victories, including his memorable stoppage win over Japan's Keita Obara in 2016. He's been a professional since 2009 and made an impact after just a year of being a professional, stopping veteran former world title challenger Matt Zegan in December 2010. He would later score notable mid-level wins over the likes of Walter Estrada, Jose Alfaro and Aik Shakhnazaryan before fighting unbeaten IBF champion Cesar Rene Cuenca in 2015. He would stop Cuenca in 6 rounds then defend his belt against Cuenca and Obara the following year before suffering an upset loss in 40 seconds to the unheralded Julius Indongo. Since then he has bounced back with notable wins over Michele Di Rocco and Carlos Manuel Portillo.
Whilst Relikh is a pressure fight Troyanovsky is a pure puncher. His boxing skills are very limited but his power is really a game changer and even talented boxers need to be wary of him connecting, just once. At 38 years old he is still very dangerous due to his limitations. There isn't much speed or defense but he's not a fighter you should take risks against. If he clips you you're either going down, or going to be serious buzzed as he tries to finish you off. Despite hitting hard his ability to take a shot is questionable. Whilst his loss to Indongo did come to a peach of a punch, he has been rocked a few times, in fact Obara seemed to hurt before being stopped himself. Coming in he will know that this will be his last chance, and a loss here likely spells the end of his career, at least as leading contender in a division that has warmed up a lot in the last 12 months or so.
It's clear that Relikh will look to get inside, grind down the older man and take him out whilst Troyanovsky will be trying to load up his big right hand and take him out with a single shot. We suspect Relikh will be fully aware of how Troyanovsky sets up his power and will be tactically avoiding it, whilst grinding down the dangerous challenger. There is always going to be a sense of risk for Relikh, but we suspect he will come out on top in the middle rounds, with Troyanovsky's 38 year old body simply being worn out and beaten down.
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.