By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
A major boxing clash takes place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 18th, as Artur Beterbiev and Oleksandr Gvozdyk put their respective IBF & WBC Light Heavyweight titles on the line, in what it’s guaranteed to be a fight of the year candidate.
Artur Beterbiev (14-0 / 14 KOs) began his career as an amateur, winning the World championship and World Cup once each, as well as the Europeans twice, subsequently earning the honorary title of “National Master of Sports”. During those years, he held victories over future Olympic medalists, such as Egor Mekhontsev (gold), Kenny Egan (silver), Abbos Atoev (bronze) and future pro world champions like Sergey Kovalev & Yuniel Dorticos.
He finally made his pro debut in 2013, quickly amassing 5 consecutive stoppages, before facing his first legit opponent in Tavoris Cloud (24-3). Beterbiev dropped the former IBF World champion thrice in the opening round and put him down for the final time in the 2nd after landing a short left hook to the chin, thus becoming the first man to knockout Cloud, in what turned out to be the last match of his career.
Beterbiev proceeded to defend his NABO title against Jeff Page (18-3) and also win the IBF North American championship. Despite suffering an early knockdown, he returned the favor two times, while finishing the job once again with the left hook. This was Page’s first ever loss.
Continuing his path of destruction in 2015-2016, he outboxed the former WBA World champion Gabriel Campillo (25-8) and KOed him with a powerful straight right, in only 4 rounds. After that, he added Alexander Johnson (17-4), Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna (26-6), Isidro Ranoni Prieto (27-3) to his victim’s list and the WBO International title to his collection.
His big moment came in November of 2017, when he met the 2 time WBA Intercontinental champion Enrico Koelling (26-3) for the vacant IBF title. Beterbiev was clearly the superior boxer, being way ahead in points, as Koelling barely offered any significant offense of his own. It was the one and only time a fight of his went 12 rounds, but he still didn’t need the judges, since he scored 2 knockdowns in the closing moments, causing the referee to stop the fight and crown him the new IBF Light Heavyweight champion of the world.
The Russian marked his inaugural title defense last October against the then undefeated British & Commonwealth champion Callum Johnson (18-1). These 2 bruisers engaged in an incredible brawl, trading big shots as well as knockdowns, much to the excitement of the fans in attendance. However, Callum made the mistake of closing the distance, which is where Beterbiev excels at the most, thus taking two rapid blows to the chin and to the temple, putting an end to the Englishman’s world championship aspirations.
Dispatching mandatory challenger Radivoje Kalajdzic (24-2) with relative ease, earlier this year, Beterbiev now looks to cement his legacy by fighting a fellow unstoppable fighter and become a double world champion. But the road to glory passes through a rather tough rival.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0), much like Beterbiev, used to compete in the amateurs, where he won the European Cup and most importantly the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. His reported record was 225-30.
In his 10th match as a pro, he dropped Nadjib Mohammedi (42-8) with a lighting fast right cross during the 2nd round. The Ukrainian defeated 2 more world title challengers in Tommy Karpency (29-7) and Isaac Chilemba (25-7) on the same year.
In 2018, Gvozdyk bested former European champion Mehdi Amar (35-6) for the right to face the WBC & Lineal World champion Adonis Stevenson (29-2), who at the time, was undefeated for 7 years and with 24 KOs under his belt. Gvozdyk scored an early knockdown in the 3rd after landing a clean straight right, but the referee called it a slip for some reason. He survived Stevenson’s superman punch in the 10th and hurt the champ before the round ended. The finish came at the 11th, after a plethora of strikes, finally stopping Adonis with a right straight to the chin, ending the reign of one of the best Light Heavyweights in history.
Unfortunately, Gvozdyk’s 1st defense wasn’t as impressive, since Doudou Ngumbu (38-10) suffered a calf injury during the 5th round, which led to the referee stoppage. Up untl that point, the champion was in control from the opening bell, putting together some slick combinations and his jab to good use. Now, almost a year away from the biggest fight of his career, he gets the opportunity to make the headlines once again, by gunning for a second world title.
It’s always intriguing to see 2 undefeated champions fight each other, but at the same time, it’s tough to pick a winner, since neither man has ever tasted defeat before. Gvozdyk is a much more technical boxer, buying his time and wearing his opponents down before going in for the kill, which most times comes in the form of a straight right. Beterbiev’s style on the other hand is far more aggressive. You can understand that, by simply looking at his record. Only 3 of his fights have gone past the 4th round. What’s also impressive about him is that he can muster a lot of energy behind his short range punches, even when his foe has him clinched. However, the most important statistic about Beterbiev might be this: 100% finishing ratio ! Not a single man that has stepped into the ring with him has managed to go the distance. It won’t be a surprise if he is the one to hand Gvozdyk his 1st loss as a pro. However, if Gvozdyk can survive the early onslaught, he might have a shot at outpointing the Russian. So who walks away the unified WBC/IBF Light Heavyweight World champion??? We will find out this coming Friday in Philly!
The Light Heavyweight division is one with a lot of interesting match ups that could be made, and a very interesting title picture. Sadly though we do, even with the talent in the division, get the occasional bout that doesn't really appeal. On October 12th we get one such bout as WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11) takes on the unheralded Lenin Castillo (20-2-1, 15) from the Dominican Republic.
On paper this doesn't look awful, though in reality it is a step backwards for Bivol, and is a long way from the type of bouts fans had been hoping for from him. After a run of wins over top 15 type guys likes Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr the hope was for Bivol to face one of the division's top, top fighters. Bouts against the likes of Sergey Kovalek, Artur Beterbiev, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Gilberto Ramirez, Jesse Hard or Marcus Browne. As for Castillo it's a huge opportunity for him, and ever a good performance in a loss could enhance his profile going forward.
The 28 year old Bivol, who was born in Kyrgyzstan, has been on the radar of fans for a few years and he was aggressively matched early on in his career. Unlike many fighters he didn't need easy fights, and instead every one of his pro bouts has come against an opponent with a winning record. When he claimed the WBA "interim" title in May 2016, in just his 7th bout, it was little surprise and since then he has continued to pile up the wins. Sadly though as his competition has stepped up his entertainment level has dropped off.
Early in his career Bivol was an technically excellent, aggressive fighter who hunted the stoppage. He through a lot and although it seemed like he was one paced it looked like he wanted to entertain and he wanted to go for stoppages. That was incredibly obvious against Felipe Romero where he turned the screw in the final round despite being in a very clear lead. Sadly since then Bivol has shown more of a focus on winning rather than wowing, taking decision wins, instead of impressing. The focus towards taking the win has made his fights rather samey and dull, and the early excitement of his career has began to fade. Rapidly. He's still incredibly talented, with lovely technical ability, and a solid work rate, but his performances just look uninspired and boring.
To many Castillo will be a bit of an unknown, but the 31 year old has actually been around the pro since 2009 and is well travelled, with his international debut coming in 2011. Since his debut he has fought almost half of his career outside of the Dominican republic, with the vast majority of his non-domestic bouts taking place in the US. The most notable of those bouts was his 2018 bout with Marcus Browne, when he lost a clear decision to Browne but showed enough to prove himself as a very capable fighter. In the Browne fight Castillo looked like a very big and strong fighter, with solid power, dropping Browne in round 5, and nice hand speed. The one thing he seemed to lack was real ambition and work rate. When he let his shots fly he looked dangerous, but was far too lazy.
Given that this is a huge chance for Castillo we'd hope to see him have more ambition than he did against Browne. If he does than he has the size, power and physical strength to give Bivol real issues. Bivol has the edge in work rate, technique and speed, and we suspect that will be the key, but this is unlikely to be a walk in the park for the champion.
We expect to see Bivol using good in and out movement whilst landing with his quicker shots, but we really wouldn't be surprised at all if Castillo has moments against him, and takes more than just a round or two. Bivol's consistency should take him to a clear decision, but this is a legitimate test against a man who will have reach and height advantages and will ask questions of Bivol.
Prediction - UD12 Bivol
On October 5th we'll see Kazakh fighter Gennady Golovkin (39-1-1, 35) attempt to reclaim the IBF Middleweight title, which was stripped from him last year, as he takes on Ukrainian Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-1, 10) for the vacant belt. The bout isn't a huge bout, such as a third bout between Golovkin and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, but it's still one of the very best bouts that could be made at Middleweight.
Now aged 37 Golovkin is certainly a fighter who is on the wrong end of his prime, in fact he's visibly slipped beyond his best. The Kazakh is still a hard hitting, technically well schooled fighter, but he's lost a step. His speed, which was never great, has slowed, his movement is a little more clumsy and his defense is still as open as it was earlier in his career. Yes he still has a great chin, great recuperative powers and crushing power, but he looked rather clumsy and slow against Steve Rolls, last time out and not the fighter he was just a couple of years earlier. He looks more beatable than he once did, he looks like he can be out worked and out boxed, and it'd not be a major shock if he did lose in the near future to someone he'd have beaten a few years ago.
Despite being past his best Golovkin is of course still a top fighter. The only marks on his record have both come to Saul Alvarez, with a draw in 2017 and a loss in 2018, both bouts were incredibly close and he wasn't outclassed in either, but he has fought just 4 rounds since the second Alvarez fight, 13 months ago. With his age, natural decline and inactivity we do wonder just how good Golovkin will be here and how much he has left in the well. He has also been dealing with a lot of out of the ring issues, including splits with his long term trainer and former management team.
The Ukrainian is a 33 year old who is technically a fantastic fighter, and like Golovkin was a stellar amateur. He is best known for winning a bronze medal at the 2007 World Amateur Championships, but he also competed in the 2008 Olympics, fought in the 2009 World Championships and the World Series Boxing. In the amateurs he was well regarded for his technique and speed, though was certainly not the biggest fighter at the weight and that proved to be an issue at times. Now, as a professional, he is still a rather under-sized Middleweight, but is an excellent, busy, quick, sharp and solid punching fighter. He's not the biggest puncher, the quickest, the most defensively smart of the best, but he's very solid in every way, other than natural size, and to be honest he'd probably have had more success had he been fighting at Light Middleweight.
At his best Derevyanchenko has the style to really test anyone, as we saw in his loss to Daniel Jacobs last year and in wins over the likes Tureano Johnson and Jack Culcay. He could give Golovkin real issues with his work rate, movement, will to win and speed. He is a big step up from the likes of Steve Rolls and Vanes Martirosyan and should be regarded as one of Golovkin's toughest foes so far. Sadly though his lack of single punch power won't stop Golovkin coming forward, and we suspect, sooner or later, Golovkin will get to Derevyanchenko.
We suspect Derevyanchenko will have success early on, but as the bout goes on, and as Golovkin starts to land his straight shots he'll begin to take over and begin to rack up the rounds en route to a clear, yet competitive, decision.
Prediction UD12 Golovkin
The Light Flyweight division has been one of the most interesting in recent years thanks to the great match ups we've been getting, and the consistency of those match ups. Unlike many other division's we've seen very few "stay" busy fights from the top guys in the division, and instead we've seen champions defending against top-10 challengers on a regular basis. Adding to that is the fact the top 10 Light Flyweights are all consistently good fighters and aren't there to make up the numbers.
This coming Tuesday we see another notable world title bout at 108lbs, as WBA "super" and Ring magazine champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (13-0, 9) defends his title against mandatory challenger Tetsuya Hisada (34-9-2, 20). The bout is not only an all-Japanese world title bout but more specifically a bout between two men from Osaka, despite the fact Kyoguchi is currently fighting out of Tokyo.
Coming in to the bout the clear favourite will be the champion. The unbeaten Kyoguchi, who fights out of the Watanabe gym, has been a professional since April 2016, and is already a 2-weight world champion, having won the IBF Minimumweight title before moving up to the Light Flyweight division. Early in his career he looked like an aggressive monster, applying intense pressure on his opponents and breaking them down with hard, accurate, shots on the inside. Since then he has developed a more rounded boxer-puncher style, though still has the ability to pressure on the inside. His power and body shots have proven to be his key tools, and were invaluable in his title win back in December over Hekkie Budler. Since winning the title he has defended it once, beating Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart this past June, whilst angling for unification bouts later in the year.
At just 25 years old Kyoguchi is seen as one of the true faces of the future for Japanese boxing, along with the likes of the more well known Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka and fellow Light Flyweight Kenshiro. He's proven to be fun to watch, but hasn't quite caught the imagination of the Japanese fans in the same was as Inoue, or shown the willingness to move through the weights the way Tanaka has. Also Kyoguchi's power, whilst still solid, hasn't really career up to world class. He was once 6-0 (6), but in world title bout he's 5-0 (2) and is 7-0 (3) since his destructive start to the professional ranks.
Whilst Kyoguchi is a rising star the same can't be said if Hisada, however the challenger has been on a rise of sorts the last few years. The 34 year old was once 8-4 in the pro ranks, and just 5 years ago he was 21-9-2 (11). Back then it seemed the best he would ever do would be to compete on the regional title scene. He has however turned his entire career around was a 13 fight winning run, claiming and defending the Japanese national title and scoring a number of solid wins. He avenged previous losses to Kenichi Horikawa, stopped former title challenger Atsushi Kakutani, and scored solid domestic wins over the likes of Shun Kosaka, Hayato Yamaguchi and Koki Ono. Of course those wins are well below world level, but they are still strong victories and evidence that Hisada has developed with age and is in great form.
In the ring Hisada is less of a destructive force than Kyoguchi, though has stopped 9 of his last 13, but is a fighter who hits solidly, knows his way around the ring and is a smart, crafty veteran. He's an aggressive fighter, who likes to apply pressure behind his footwork, has under-rated speed and movement, but is rather conservative in terms of output, realising it was more important to know when to punch rather than just punching.
When these two get in the ring we're expecting a great crowd reaction, sadly for Hisada that reaction won't help him cope with the pressure, power and physicality of Kyoguchi. Instead we suspect that Kyoguchi will get inside, will work the body of Hisada and will, eventually, wear down the challenger. Hisada can fight, and is very solid on the front foot, but if he gets pushed back, as we expect to see here, he tends to struggle. With Kyoguchi being a fantastic body puncher we think that it'll be the body work of the champion that does the damage and, eventually, leads to him stopping Hisada.
Prediction - TKO8 Kyoguchi
This coming Saturday isn't a huge day for Asian boxing, but there is stuff to get excited about, and for boxing fans in general the pick of the shows takes place in California.
That card has a trio of "world title bouts" on it, one of which will see Russian based Uzbek Batyr Akhmedov (7-0, 6) fighting for the WBA "regular" Light Welterweight title. The unbeaten Akhmedov takes on fellow unbeaten fighter Mario Barrios (24-0, 16), in what should be a very explosive contest between two hard hitting and fast improving fighters. Whilst the WBA "regular" title isn't really a world title, it does give us some great match ups and this one of those.
Akhmedov, also known as Batuhan Gozgec, was born in Uzbekistan, competed at the Olympics for Turkey and is based in Russia. He's a fighter with a mixed background, but a strong background all the same, having competed at the Rio games and been a very strong amateur with WSB experience as well. Although he was successful in the unpaid ranks his style always seemed like it would be better in the professional ranks, and that was seen when he began his professional career. In just his 4th professional bout he dominated the solid Ricky Sismundo and quickly added other notable wins over Ismael Barroso and Viktor Plotnikov. Those 3 wins alone helped secure him a high world ranking and got him in the world title mix.
In the ring Akhmedov is a hard hitting boxer-puncher, who has real spite on his shots. He's not the most defensively sound fighter, but he's also not someone who takes too many risks, until he feels he's softened his opponent up. Like many Easter European and Central Asian fighters he does have very solid amateur credentials, but also a bit of flair to his boxing, wanting to catch the eye of fans. When he gets someone hurt he really goes all out to take them out, and has brutal power in both hands. His main issues is when he does turn on the jets he does leave himself a bit open as he gets often left hand happy.
At 24 years old Barrios is just coming into his prime, but his career feels like it's been a slow burning one since his professional debut in 2013. The American showed some early promise, but was originally fighting at Bantawmeight. Since the early days his frame has filled out and he's become a strong and powerful Light Welterweight, settling at a weight that seems to be the best for him. At one point there was question marks about his power but since going through the weights and physically maturing. The development of his power has seen him scoring 8 straight stoppages, but his competition has, at times, been rather limited, under-sized or small. For Barrios the bout really is a huge step up.
Watching Barrios in action we can see how his frame suits the move up to 140lbs more than it did at the lower weights. He's a big kid, with a tall, rangy frame and adding muscle to that frame has certainly been best for his career. Even at 140lbs he looks big, and we do wonder how he made 122lbs. He's more patient than Akhmedov, and looks for openings, trying to to box himself into bouts. He's got quick hands, nice range and good power, though of course we've not seem him being caught by a legitimate 140lb puncher yet, and that is a big question he will need to answer here.
Barrios is certainly the more rounded, pure boxer, he's the one who will fight behind his jab, the one who will move and use the ring. Akhmedov however is a tank, he'll come forward, throw from some unusual angles and look to get his thunderous power into play early on. That power may turn out to be too much for Barrios, who really hasn't been caught by a legitimate power punching Light Welterweight.
We expect Barrios to start well, but sooner or later he will taste the power of Akhmedov, and from then on we suspect he'll be ground down by the Uzbek-Russian who will eventually get the stoppage, and secure the biggest win of his career.
Prediction - Akhmedov TKO9
This coming Saturday fight fans in Las Vegas will see a legendary Filipino name return to world title action, albeit not the man who made the name famous but instead his grandson.
The legendary name in question is Elorde, best known for the great Gabriel "Flash" Elorde who's grand son Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1, 15) challenges WBO Super Bantamweight champion Emanuel Navarrete (28-1, 24) on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. For the champion this will be his third defense, since winning the title last December, whilst Elorde will be getting his first bout at this level, and will be entering as a huge under-dog.
The Mexican champion had been on the verge of a break out for a while, with those who follow the Latin American scene tipping him as a hugely talented, exciting, and destructive prospect. Last year he got a chance, taking on Isaac Dogboe, and impressed as he out pointed the popular Dogboe over 12 rounds to claim the WBO title. Since then he has really been on a roll, seeing his standing in the sport increase with a stoppage win over Dogboe in a rematch and a quick blow out over Francisco Da Vaca in August.
In the ring Navarrete is a legitimate monster. He's a strong, powerful, hard hitting and rugged Mexican who, at 5'7" is huge for the weight. Although he's an aggressive fighting machine he's actually quite a smart fighter, and not as reckless as he sometimes appears. He gets inside well, with quick footwork and unloads hooks, uppercuts and straights up close. He combines his excellent offensive output with a real rugged toughness and it looks like it's going to take a very, very special fighter to beat him....unless making weight beats him first. In many ways he's a little bit similar to former Welterweight champion Antonio Margarito, and like Margarito he rarely takes a step backwards, so one thing we would like to see, one day, is a fighter really put him on the back foot. Sadly we don't expect to see that here.
At 32 years old Elorde will be getting his first world title fight, and likely his last. Despite the Super Bantamweight division being a low key solid one he is some how ranked #1 by the WBO, who genuinely have awful rankings in the division. To date his best win was his most recent, a very competitive decision over Japan's Shohei Kawashima, a decision that many felt Elorde was fortunate to get. That was his 18th straight win, but one of very few against fighters of any note, with perhaps the next most notable being a 2018 decision win over Lucky Tor Buamas. That's not to say he's a bad fighter, but one who's going from fringe regional level to world class, having only really touched regional title level a couple of times.
Given that the Philippines, alone, has fighters in the division like Albert Pagara, Marlon Tapales, Jeo Santisima and Mark Anthony Geraldo, an argument could be made that Elorde is only the 5th best in his homeland. And he may actually be outside the top 10 best actually competing in Asia, behind the likes of Ryosuke Iwasa, Yusaku Kuga, Shingo Wake, Tomoki Kameda, Hiroaki Teshigawa and Yukinori Oguni.
Although Elorde's #1WBO ranking is a joke he's technically a decent fighter, with a nice jab, nice footwork, nice speed and good understanding of the ring. He's also one of the very few fighters in the division who is a similar height to Navarette. Sadly however "nice" doesn't cut it at world class and even ignoring his flaws, which include a relatively low work rate, poor punch power, he simply doesn't have any world class traits.
Elorde could have made a very solid career fighting at regional level the last few years. Instead he has been moved safely to this shot. A shot that he doesn't deserve, is ill prepared for but will given his all for. Sadly giving his all won't be anywhere near enough against Navarrete. The Mexican might take a round or two to get his engine going but when that happens we expect him to mow through the Filipino challenger.
Prediction - TKO4 Navarette
The Minimumweight division may not get much respect in the English speaking world but the division has, over the years, given us some special fights, such as Katsunari Takayama's war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Akira Yaegashi's historic clash with Kazuto Ioka and Yaegashi's incredible bout with Pornsawan Porpramook. Not every fight in the division is great, but more often than not the division over delivers.
The next fight in the division that we're expecting to be something special is an upcoming bout for the vacant IBF title, as the unbeaten Samuel Salva (17-0, 10) takes on former world title challenger Pedro Taduran (13-2, 10), in a rare all-Filipino world title bout. It's the third all-Filipino world title bout in the space of 18 months, and whilst it's the lowest profile it is likely to be the most entertaining.
The unbeaten Salva was originally pencilled in to face Deejay Kriel, though Kriel would vacate the title rather than travel to the Philippines for his mandatory against the unheralded Salva. That has lead to this bout, and given Salva, dubbed the "Silent Assassin" a chance to face his countryman for the belt.
Aged 22 Salva has been quietly making a name for himself at home running up his unbeaten streak without too much fuss. His record isn't stacked with notable names but during his 17 fight career he has scored victories over Donny Mabao, Marco John Rementizo and Rene Mark Cuarto. These are all domestic fighters, but are the sort of fighters that we Filipino's beating before getting a big shot. Aged 22 we wouldn't typically expect a big win on Salva's record, but it is concerning that he is getting a world title yet lacks a win over an international foe.
To date Salva's best win is likely his decision victory over Rene Mark Cuarto from earlier this year. In that bout Salva did enough to earn a close but clear decision over his compatriot. His key to victory there was being a little busier, coming forward more often and a slight edge in power, though it was a close fight. Salva really didn't show anything exceptional through the bout, but looked calm, steady and worked hard through 10 rounds, boxing behind his jab and using his footwork to pressure Cuarto and countering well when Cuarto came forward. He looked solid, but not spectacular.
Taduran on the other hand has fought at a much higher level than Salva. The "Rattle Snake", who like Salva is also 22, has scored wins against the likes of Robert Onggocan, Philip Luis Cuerdo, Jerry Tomogdan and Jeffrey Galero, whilst his losses have been to Joel Lino, early in his career, and WBC world champion Wanheng Menayothin, just over a year ago. Like Salva his wins have been against domestic competition, though a higher level of domestic foe to the unbeaten man, and he certainly didn't embarrass himself in a very competitive bout with Wanheng in Thailand. That bout with Wanheng left many, including ourselves, feeling like Taduran had world championship potential, and just needed to build a little bit more, with the experience of fighting Wanheng certainly helping him improve.
Watching Taduran fight we see a fighter who isn't intimidated by a hostile atmosphere or an opponents reputation, a man with boundless energy, an awkward busy southpaw who can fight on the front foot. He's technically not the sharpest, not does he look like a fighter with much power, but he's in there to have a fight, will barge forward and let his hands fly. His defensive flaws do leave him open to be tagged, but on the other hand he appears capable taking a good, solid shot. He's less technical than Salva, but seems happier to make things a fight.
On paper we suspect that Salva will start as the slight favourite, but we actually favour Taduran. We feel his experience at a higher level, his energy, aggression and work rate will be the difference. Salva is the better boxer, from what we've managed to see of the two, but sometimes it's the better fighter who picks up the win, and Taduran is certainly the man who looks to be the better fighter.
We're expecting to see Taduran pressure Salva, maybe lose a few early rounds to Salva's boxing as a result, but eventually begin to grind down the unbeaten man, taking a close but clear decision victory to claim the IBF title.
Prediction - UD12 Taduran
Right now the Flyweight division, which for years was one of the strongest in the sport, is one of the least interesting. It's a division that is having a transitional period, with great fighters fighting 4lbs lower or 3lbs heavier. There are some sensational fighters at Flyweight, but they are few and far between, with many of the leading contenders are a bit limited. This has left the division with only a handful of excellent bouts at the top whilst we await for the next generation to develop.
Don't get us wrong, the division has some really exciting young talent in it's ranks, but the likes of Junto Nakatani, Nico Hernandez, Ryota Yamauchi, Jesse Rodriguez and Kento Hatanaka are just not ready, yet, to fight at the top.
That leaves us with some sensational champions and some veteran, or limited challengers. The match ups we want, are almost all unification bouts, with little else really being of major interest.
We say all that to pre-face the upcoming WBO Flyweight title bout which will put unbeaten 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (13-0, 7) up against mandatory challenger Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez (22-2-1-1, 13). It's a bout that looks good, but in reality we don't see it as all that competitive.
Tanaka is one of the guys who should be in, or on the verge, of the top 10 pound for pound conversation. He is already a 3 weight world champion at the age of 24 with notable wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura and Ryoichi Taguchi. In just 13 fights he has gone 7-0 (3) at world level, never faced an opponent with a losing record and his last 10 opponents combined had gone 176-11-8. In many ways he is cut from the same cloth as Naoya Inoue and Vasily Lomachenko. He wants to prove himself, and do it as quickly as possible. No messing about, no easy fights.
Sadly Gonzalez is a man who showed a lot of early promise but has yet to deliver on that promise. The 28 year old southpaw turned professional at the age of 19 after an excellent amateur career and would stop his first 6 opponents in 9 combined rounds. Sadly that power hasn't carried up as he's moved through the levels, and only 1 of his last 6 bouts saw him take an early win. His lack of power at the higher level isn't his only issue as he appears to lack in terms of durability, and both of his losses have come by stoppage. The first of those was in 2013, when he was dominated by Giovani Segura with the second with the second being a loss to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016.
What Gonzalez can do well is box. He's a nice, tidy boxer, with decent speed, nice movement and a brilliant arsenal of shots. Sadly though he is rather defensively open, and although he takes a good shot, his defenses fall apart when he's hurt, as we saw repeatedly against Segura. If you let him settle into his rhythm he's hard to unsettle, but at the same time he can be shaken, rather easily.
Boxing with Tanaka is rarely a good idea, he's an amazing boxer himself, with incredible speed, and he's often one, if not 2 or 3, steps ahead of his opponent. He's quick with hands and feet and is heavy handed enough to make incredibly tough world class fighters, even at Flyweight, respect him. His issues come when he faces fighters with big power, like Vic Saludar, not the boxers. Boxers are what he thrives against.
Coming into this we expect the fight to start off interestingly, with both boxing at a decent tempo and using their lightening speed. As the fight goes on however the fight will become more and more one sided, with Tanaka turning the screws in the middle rounds, upping his pace and unleashing his power shots. When that happens we expect to see Gonzalez crumbling, before being stopped, in a flurry of power shots, whilst on the ropes.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO10
The Philippines, seemingly more than anywhere else, has world champions who defend on the road fight after fight. We don't mean world champions who set up a boxing home away from home, but actually get out their passport and head all over the place to fight their world level bouts. The latest of those is WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (19-3, 10), who won the belt in Japan, made his first defense in Japan and will be in action this coming weekend in Puerto Rico, to defend against Wilfredo Mendez (13-1, 5).
The lack of big money in the Philippines has seen fighters like Saludar, John Riel Casimero and Jerwin Ancajas fighting on the road as champions, and in a way it makes their reigns a little more interesting than those fighters who remain a small, but local, star. It obviously increases the risk of them losing a dodgy decision, but also increases their reputation as real world champions, willing to fight around the world.
For fans who have seen Saludar the fear of being robbed on the scorecards does not appear to be a fear that he has. The hard hitting Pinoy he has travelled for 3 fights in the last 4 years, all against men fighting in their residency. In the first of those, in Nagoya against Kosei Tanaka, he almost took Tanaka out early, before being undone by a brutal body shot whilst in the lead. The second saw him dethrone Ryuya Yamanaka in Kobe, with a clear decision, before going to Tokyo to defend against Masataka Taniguchi, and clearly defeat the talented Taniguchi. He refuses to fight like a man who believes he's going to be robbed, and instead he tries to take the fight by the scruff of the neck, combining vicious power, with under-rated technical skills, a high work rate and a real self confidence.
Prior to turning professional Saludar was a highly regarded amateur, who had defeated the likes of Charlie Edwards and Mark Anthony Barriga, and gave Amnat Ruenroeng a really tough bout, in Thailand. Those amateur fundamentals gave Saludar a great base to work on and fantastic experience on the road. His naturally heavy hands make him a nightmare in the ring and whilst he has lost a few times one of those defeats came very early, when he bust his hand, another came to Tanaka, when Tanaka pulled out one of the best shots of his career, whilst the other came to Toto Landero, who went on to give Knockout CP Freshmart a very tough test.
Whilst Saludar is a well regarded name in the sport Mendez really isn't, at least not outside of Latin America. The once beaten 22 year old has fought all 14 pro bouts in the America's, fighting mostly in his native Puerto Rico and on the frankly appalling Dominican boxing scene, with a solitary fight in Colombia. For this coming fight he is at home, with it being his 6th fight in Puerto Rico, where he is currently 5-0 (2). For Mendez this is a huge step up, and comes after multiple fights with Robert Paradero have fallen through. To date his competition has lacked in terms of quality. His sole loss came in the Dominican Republic to Leyman Benavides, a Nicaraguan who had been stopped by Gilberto Parra just 4 months earlier, whilst his best win was a clear one over Janiel Rivera, which saw one judge mis-identity the fighters resulting in a very peculiar split decision. That win over Rivera saw Mendez stepping up to the plate and shining, but Rivera is a long way removed from Saludar.
Stylistically Mendez is a solid looking fighter, who knows how to use the ring, counter and lay traps. He's a smart fighter, who really can box wonderfully on the back foot. Sadly for all the nice touches he has in terms of counters, timing and distance control he does seem to slap his shots, fight negatively and lacks real power. He's skilled, but doesn't appear to really turn his weight into his power shots and instead looks like he slaps a lot. It also appears that his defensive skills look good because of the limited level of competition that he's facing.
Coming into this bout we expect the style of Mendez to appease Saludar. To beat Saludar you can't back off him, you can't let him take the initiative. If that happens he tends to be too good, and builds his confidence through the fight. If Mendez thinks he can win on the ropes, and soaking up pressure from Saludar we suspect he's wrong, very wrong. Sitting on the ropes and letting Saludar throw his heavy, clean, hurtful shots will break a fighter down, and we suspect Mendez gets broken down here.
Mendez looks like he's tough and brave, but the pressure of Saludar will simply be too much over 12 rounds.
Prediction - TKO9 Saludar
The Bantamweight division is currently one of the most interesting, with a host of brilliant match ups to be made, a number that are already on the horizon. Bouts like Naoya Inoue Vs Nonitor Donaire and Nordine Oubaali Vs Takuma Inoue are both fantastic bouts, and with the likes of Zolani Tete, Luis Nery, Liborio Solis, Jason Moloney and Reymart Gaballo all looking for a big fight the division really is red hot.
This coming Saturday the divisional talent overflow is in action as the WBO "interim" champion John Riel Casimero (27-4, 18) defends his belt against Mexican challenger Cesar Ramirez (18-3, 11). Whilst Casimero is the "lesser" of the WBO champions, behind Tete, it's been almost a year since Tete has been in the ring and it's unclear when he will return. The winner of this bout will be waiting for Tete's return to the ring, though by then may have found themselves being upgraded by the WBO.
Casimero won the interim title earlier this year, when he scored a 12th round win over Ricardo Espinoza Franco to become a "3 weight world champion", adding this title to reigns at Light Flyweight and Flyweight. Although the win over Franco wasn't televised footage from it leaked online and it was an enthralling fight, with Casimero finally finishing off Franco in the final round of a bout that was incredibly close. That win was Casimero's second as a fully fledged Flyweight, following a February win over Japanese foe Kenya Yamashita, and in that bout Casimero looked sharp, dangerous and like he really meant business. At times though Casimero has looked uninterested, bored and like he's lacked motivation. When the motivation is there he's fantastic, but he really does need a fire under his ass.
Despite being a rather lazy and frustrating fighter at times Casimero is a real natural talent, and someone who has had to do things the hard way through much of his career. He gained a reputation as a road warrior, fighting in Nicaragua, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Panama, Thailand, China and the UK all in the space of 7 years. Not only was he on the road but he was also in with stiff competition, including Cesar Canchila, Moruti Mthalane, Luiz Alberto Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Amnat Ruenroeng and Charlie Edwards. Not only he a road warrior, but he was a world class fighting, picking up several big wins on the road.
As a fighter Casimero is a clean hitting, sharp boxer-puncher. He's not the most destructive single puncher fighter out there, but he's got that razor sharp power, where he can bust people up with accurate clean shots. He has that solid power in both hands, and his power stays with him late into fights. He's skilled, has good ring IQ but is, as mentioned, lazy and somewhat under-sized for a Bantamweight, but at 30 is a fully grown man, unlike some of the youngsters breaking through the division.
Sadly it's less easy to say much about Ramirez, a man who has done nothing to be in a world title fight, even an interim one, and really will not be given much of a chance coming into this bout. The 31 year old Mexican challenger has been a professional since 2012 and has lacked a win of any real note. Despite that he has shared the ring with some pretty decent fighters, most notably Alejandro Gonzalez Jr and Ryan Burnett, who both clearly beat Ramirez, with Gonzalez stopping him in 6 and Burnett almost shutting him out over 10 rounds.
When looking through Ramirez's record for a win of some kind of note we really struggle, with the best being last year's 12th round TKO over Eliseo Velez. Sadly that sort of says it all, about Ramirez, who has not done anything at all to deserve a shot, with most of his wins so far coming against fighters with losing records.
Although not a total scrub it's still fair to say that Ramirez shouldn't be in a world title fight and will be little more than target practice for Casimero. The Filipino does deserve some easier bouts at home, given all of his big road bouts, but this is a rather pathetic first defense of the interim title. He will have things all his own way, chipping away at Ramirez until the time comes for the referee to save the challenger.
Prediction TKO7 - Casimero
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.