One of the big break outs from Asia in the last 12 months or so is Chinese fighter Can Xu (17-2, 3) who hadn't made his US debut until September 2018 but has since become a fighter with a genuine feel good story, an exciting style and a a charming personality. It's those traits that saw him win over fight fans in December, when he claimed the WBA "regular" Featherweight title with an upset win over Jesus M Rojas in Houston.
On November 23rd Xu returns to the US to make his second defense of the title, as he takes on the unbeaten Manny Robles III (18-0, 8) in what looks set to be a very fun fight between two men who aren't known for their power, but should be capable of putting on a real action fight.
In January the then 24 year old Xu, who is now 25, became the first Chinese man to win a world title by dethroning someone. Whilst the belt was only the "regular" title it was still an historical first for Chinese boxing. The fact he did it against a feared puncher like Rojas, and seemed to beat Rojas at his own game, of making fights a war, just just even more impressive. He pushed Rojas and down the stretch he out worked Rojas in one of the many forgotten thrillers of 2019. He would return to the ring 4 months later and stop former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo in China.
Although not a big puncher Xu is a real danger man. He's physically very strong, has an incredible work rate and toughness, and overwhelms opponents. His power isn't as much of an issue as some would suspect, though it is worth noting he has stopped 3 of his last 5 after failing to score a single stoppage in his first 14 bouts. Given his style we do expect him to grind people down in the later stages of 10 and 12 rounds, where he simply grinds the fight out of them.
Robles, like Xu, is 25 years old and isn't known for his power though that's not to say he can't punch, just that his power really isn't his strength. He's technically a cute boxer, with a nice jab, nice work on the inside and good pressure. His work rate is a lot less than that of Xu but it's also a lot more clearly defined. At his heart he looks to be a fighter who sometimes gets lost between two styles though, not sure if he should be a warrior on the inside or a boxer on the outside and this is certainly going to be an issue as he takes on fighters who know their own identity and fight their own styles.
Whilst the fighting identity of Robles is an issue he also doesn't appear to have the greatest of engines. Both of his completed 10 rounds have seen him only just manage to get over the line with split decisions. If you can't punch and your engine isn't great you're going to be in real trouble against Xu. Notably Robles has also only had 10 rounds of in ring action over the last year, with ring rust being another potential issue for the American challenger.
Although Robles is a talented fighter we see Xu just being too big, too strong and too hungry. Xu will drag Robles into his fight, and we have seen Robles dragged into a war before, and out work him. The bout will test Robles' toughness though we wouldn't be surprised at all if that toughness wasn't enough to see him survive the 12 rounds with the Chinese "Monster".
The pressure, work rate and strength of Xu will be too much, especially down the stretch.
Prediction- TKO11 Xu
Earlier this year China saw it's baby faced punching machine Can Xu (16-2, 2) announce himself on the global stage with an upset win in the US over Jesus M Rojas, to become the WBA "regular" Featherweight champion. The win was a notable upset, especially given how bad Xu had looked on his US debut, and saw the feather fisted "Monster", don't ask, show off his fun style, his incredible toughness and his wonderful personality.
This coming weekend Xu heads back to a Chinese ring as he looks to make the first defense of his title, and unlike many who would take on an easy first defense he will actually go up against former WBA "regular" Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo (13-1, 9) in what is a really nice looking match up.
Xu, as we all saw against Rojas, is a tough, gutsy guy with an incredible work rate. His shots don't have much on them individually but the sheer number of punches he throws is incredible and he does wear people out mentally as well as physically. He combines an insane output with a gritty toughness, that we saw not only against Rojas but also against the likes of Spicy Matsushita, Nehomar Cermeno and Hurricane Futa, among others.
His combination of toughness and output has seen him winning his last 13 fights and becoming the new face of Chinese boxing. That's admittedly not a position that has given us a lot of big names, but puts him in a small group along with Xiang Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, as Chinese world champions and focal points in Chinese boxing history.
Xu isn't likely to be a big star world wide, despite his style, but for Chinese boxing he is a potential center point to build off over the coming years. He's only 25, he's promoted by China's bigger promoter Max Power Promotions, and could be finding himself as someone to inspire the next generation of fighters. The hope once was that Zou Shiming would do that, but he was too old when he turned professional and although interesting outside of the ring he wasn't fun to watch, his fighters didn't see a lot of punches aren't weren't exciting. Xu is fun, young, exciting and oozes natural charisma, which can appeal to local fans and international ones.
As previously mentioned Kubo is a former "regular" champion at 122lbs. Whilst he was fighting at Super Bantamweight he was regarded as a fast rising hopeful, and scored early career wins over the likes of Monico Laurente and Luis May before taking the OPBF title in 2015. In the eyes of many he was the new hope of the Shinsei gym, and winning the OPBF title in just his 9th fight showed that they were going to be pushing to be the replacement for Hozumi Hasegawa at the top of the Shinsei stable. Less than 18 months after his OPBF win he would defeat Nehomar Cermeno for the WBA "regular title", with Cemerno retiring between rounds 10 and 11. It's worth noting that Cermeno had won and defended his belt, twice, in China becoming a bit of a name there, so beating Cermeno would have got Kubo some attention in China.
Sadly Kubo's reign was short and he lost the belt less than 5 months later when he dominated by Danny Roman, who has now run up 4 defenses and unified the WBA and IBF titles suggesting that a lott to Roman isn't something to be ashamed by. Since losing the belt Kubo has scored a single win, moving up to Featherweight and narrowly out pointing Hiroshige Osawa. Sadly a planned follow up was cancelled late last year when Kubo was suffering issues with his sight, though he has receieved treatment and things are said to be sorted with his eyes now.
In the ring Kubo is a pretty basic fighter. He's gangly, long and has impressive size, and will have that at Featheweight, but doesn't do anything specially well. He has a solid enough jab and a decent left hook to the body but there is nothing that makes you think he's world class, other than his desire and will to win. In fact if anything he's shown a suspect chin, a lack of power and some naivety. Despite his flaws he does have success, his heart is incredible and he knows how to use his size. He's not only awkward in terms of reach and height but also due to being a southpaw and he does do a lot that's nice, as opposed to exceptional.
We think Kubo could ask questions of Xu, especially early on when he can land some body shots and is fresh enough to get his punches off. As the fight wears on however we expect to see Xu's pressure, work rate and aggression be the difference, and for the Chinese fighter to retain his title.
We're expecting Kubo to survive the distance, but wouldn't be hugely shocked by a late a stoppage for Xu, despite his reputation as a none-puncher.
Prediction Xu UD12
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.
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.
This coming Sunday we'll see Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao in what could be his final bout. On the same card we'll get the chance to see a rising Filipino Phenom take on his biggest challenge as he battles for the interim WBA Featherweight title.
The Filipino in question is the unbeaten Jhack Tepora (21-0, 16) who steps up in class to face Edivaldo Ortega (26-1-1, 12) in what could genuinely turn out to be the fight of the weekend, despite the fact it's only for an interim title. Both fighters have styles that should gel, a lot to prove, and both will know this is a massive opportunity to make a name for themselves, fighting on a massive card in front of a global audience.
The 25 year old Tepora turned professional in early 2012 with fight fans in the Philippines predicting big things to come from him. He had been a notable amateur on the Filipino scene and was fighting in 8 rounders just 15 months after his professional debut. Despite being hotly tipped it wasn't until 2016 that Tepora fougth for his first title, claiming the PBF Super Bantamweight title in January of the year. He would however quickly add to his collection, winning the WBO Asia Pacific Yoth Super Bantamweight title and the WBO Oriental Super Bantamweight title by the end of the year. He would then add the World Boxing Organisation Inter-Continental featherweight title the following year with a sensational KO in South Africa against Lusanda Komanisi.
As with a lot of Filipino fighters Tepora has matured and moved up in weight notably. He made his debut as a 19 year old at Flyweight but looked a fully fleshed out Featherweight when he stopped Komanisi. He has certainly developed from a teenager into an adult and stood at 5'6” with a 67” reach he's a decent sized Featherweight. Also notably is the fact he's a heavy handed southpaw. He's not the most technically able, or the quickest or the smoothest in the ring. In fact he looks like he can be out boxed by a patient and smart fighter, but his power is brutal and not many will be able to handle his flush shots. Whilst not a technical genius Tepora is technically solid, and even without his power he's be a solid fighter, with that power however he's a real dangerman and someone who few will be in a rush to face.
Ortega is a 28 year old Mexican fighter who has been a professional since 2007 and, like Tepora, is a southpaw. Stylistically however he's not much of a puncher, having stopped only 1 of his last 7 opponents. Despite that he does hold notable inside the distance wins over the likes of Tomas Rojas and Christian Esquivel, whilst scoring solid decision wins over the likes of Drian Francisco and Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. Stylistically his lack of power isn't really an issue as he's a technically capable swarmer, who throws a lot of leather, puts opponents on the back foot and keeps up a high pressure based tempo. His styles is genuinely a fun one to watch, and although it's unlikely to give him sustained success at the top level, it will make him a very TV friendly fighter for the next few years.
On paper Ortega holds more wins of note than Tepora, with victories over former world champions like Sanchez Jr and Rojas as well as world level contenders like Francisco and Esquivel. It should be noted however that those names are typically associated with lower weights, and in fairness all 4 were well beyond their best. That's not to say Ortega isn't a fantastic fighter, but his biggest wins can certainly be questioned, and this is the first time he'll be taking on a real, genuine, puncher.
We expect to see see Ortega apply the pressure from the early stages, putting Tepora on the back foot. That gives Tepora a great chance to land his dynamite shots, and if he does we'll see just how good Ortega's chin is. If Ortega can take Tepora's power we suspect the Mexican comes out on top, of what would be an amazing fight. If he can't then then Tepora could well score a highlight reel KO of the Mexican here to claim the interim world title.
This is a really good match up and one we are so excited to see.
This coming Friday we'll be able to see several world title fights from the US, one of which will see unbeaten Filipino Genesis Servania (29-0, 12) challenge WBO Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19). For Servania, a Filipino based in Japan, this will be his maiden world title fight whilst Valdez will be seeking his third defence, following wins over Hiroshige Osawa and Miguel Marriaga.
Of the two men it's the talented and heavy handed Mexican who is expected to shine. He has long been considered one of the top Mexican fighters and, before turning professional in 2012, he had been a genuine amateur standout. In the unpaid ranks Valdez had twice competed at the Olgmpics, had won gold at the 2008 AIBA Youth World Championships, Silver at the Pan Am games in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and a Bronze at the 2009 World Amateur Championships.
So impressive was Valdez's amateur career that when he turned professional, soon after the 2012 London Olympics, people were already talking about him like a nailed on world champion. Like so many top prospects in the West however his journey to the top wasn't particularly rushed. Instead it was a slow build as he gradually stepped up his competition, beating Jose Ramirez in his 15th bout, Christ Avalos in his 17th and Evgeny Gradovch in his 19th. Finally his world title shot came in his 20th bout, in which he stopped Matias Carlos Adrian Rueda for the then vacant title.
Valdez's rise to the title had been pretty straight forward, and that was the case in his first defense, a one sided beat down of Japan's Osawa, who was tough but out classed and eventually stopped in round 7. It wasn't until his most recent defense, a 12 round war with Miguel Marriaga, that chinks were first seen in Valdez. The Mexican showed great toughness and will to win, but was hurt several times, looked defensively open and struggled to connect with his frightening power. He still won, but for the first time he was made to look human.
In the ring Valdez is a fast handed, technically well schooled boxer puncher. Defensively there is flaws, and questions do continue to be asked about his stamina and whether or not he can be versatile enough to over-come fighters who can take his power. Whilst he did defeat Marriaga, that bout left more questions than answers.
Whilst every fight fan has likely heard of, or seen, Valdez it's fair to say far, far, fewer have seen Servania. In fact many of those who have seen the Filipino would probably have only seen one fight of his, his contest with Konosuke Tomiyama which took place in 2013 in Macau as part of Top Rank's Macau experiment. That bout was a thriller, with Servania being dropped twice in the opening round, and dropping Tomiyama twice before claiming a 9th round split technical decision. Despite the drama in that fight Servania is actually a fighter who typically fights safely and doesn't engage in wars.
In the ring Servania is a technically solid fighter, who has slowly but surely racked up notable wins, which have often gone under-the-radar. Those wins have included victories over the likes of Genaro Garcia, Angky Angkotta, the aforementioned Tomiyama, Rafael Concepcion, Alexander Munoz and Jose Cabrera. Those wins won't resonate with too many fans, but they are decent wins over decent names, even though they were mostly on the slide. They have shown that Servania is a solid boxer-mover, he hits harder than his record suggests and he has rarely lost a round during his 29 bout career. It's also worth noting that despite being a bit of a veteran he is only 26 years old, with almost 9 years of experience under his belt.
Although experienced and talented this is a huge step up for Servania, and he would need to score one of the biggest upsets of 2017 to over-come Valdez. We know Servania is talented, but we can't see him having the tools needed to really test the champion. Servania should be able to have some moments, but we suspect he'll end up being stopped in the middle rounds by the more powerful Valdez.
This coming weekend is a packed one with 4 world title bouts taking place on the same show in Las Vegas. Arguably the most perplexing of those sees little known Japanese fighter Hiroshige Osawa (30-3-4, 19) face fast rising Mexican star Oscar Valdez (20-0, 18), who will be making his first defense of the WBO Featherweight title. Notably Osawa enters the bout as the #1 ranked contender to Valdez, but really is a very unknown fighter in a division that boasts a number of bigger, more established and more notable names.
As mentioned Valdez is a rising star making his first defense and looking to establish himself as one of the very best Featherweights on the planet. Out of the ring he has the natural charisma of a star, he speaks both Spanish and English, and is a really good looking kid. In the ring he's a monster, an absolute monster who combines excellent skills, with speed, a high boxing IQ, really good composure, oh and frightening power.
With a 90% KO rate Valdez's power cannot be over-stated. He's a frightening puncher. However he's not just a puncher, much like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Shinsuke Yamanaka there is much more to to Valdez than just his punching power. He was an excellent amateur and is a 2-time Olympian, a world Youth amateur champion and World Amateur Championship's bronze medal winner, losing in the final to the amazing Vasyl Lomachenko. That amateur pedigree explains the skills and the composure but the power and charisma are really what will help make him a star, and his style is explosive, eye catching and exciting.
There are still some things that Valdez needs to prove, such as his stamina which is untested though he has been 10 rounds once, and he has got a question mark over his chin with a knockdown against him a few fights back, albeit a flash knockdown. There is also a question mark about whether he enjoys actually forcing a fight, with Valdez looking a better counter puncher than a front foot fighter, and a fighter could possibly frustrate him into making mistake by being incredibly patient rather than giving him chances and openings.
Whilst the 25 year old Valdez is a rising star his opponent really is a bit of an unknown, even towards some Japanese fans, and at 31 years old Osawa is what will likely be his only chance at making a name for himself. We know it's odd to describe Osawa as an unknown, especially given that he's a former OPBF champions and a former WBO Asia Pacific “interim” champion, but he really is an unknown to many fans, including a lot in Japan. In fact some fans may actually know him best for the fact he suffered a year long suspension for taking part in a bout that the JBC were lied to.
Out of the ring Osawa is an amazing guy, he's done a lot with a foster care home and has regularly donated money to charities based on disabilities. That out of the ring activity has seen him earn the “Caregiver boxer” moniker, one of many that he has, and he does seem like the sort of fighter who really is a brilliant person on a humanitarian level. Sadly in the ring he's nothing special, and that's not an insult just the truth. Through his 37 bout career his most notable wins are a decision wins over Jonel Alibo and Eddy Comaro along with stoppage wins against Shota Yamaguchi, Kosuke Saka and Naoki Matsudam and whilst we love Kosuke Saka he shouldn't be a top win for a #1 contender.
In the ring Osawa is a decent boxer, with solid but unspectacular skills, limited power, a lack of speed and some worrying inaccuracy with his shots. It appears he's grown into a bit of power, with his last 8 bouts ending in stoppage wins, and he's actually stopped 10 of his last 11, but they have generally been against low level competition. One thing that is perhaps worthy of not is that Osawa has only been stopped once, and that was way back in 2005 and at Lightweight, when Daiki Koide beat him in 6 rounds.
Valdez will come in to this as the clear favourite, as he should do, and it's hard to see how he'll be upset. Osawa doesn't have the skills to match him or the power to really be given a “puncher's chance”. However Osawa won't have travelled to just roll over, Japanese fighters might have a reputation for losing away from home but they rarely just fall over and we suspect to see Osawa to go down swinging, likely in in the middle rounds, after perhaps frustrating Valdez for a few rounds before being stopped.
(Image courtesy of http://hiroshige0519.com)
The Featherweight division is one of the most interesting right now and seems to be one with no definitive and clear champion. The two most exciting fighters in the division to watch are Nicholas Walters and Jhonny Gonzalez, both monster puncher, the most talented fighter in a technical sense if Vasyl Lomachneko, who of course beat Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo recently. Contenders in the division include Marvin Sonsona, Simpiwe Vetyeka, Hisashi Amagasa, Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar, Lee Selby and Satoshi Hosono.
This weekend we get to see two of the divisions top names in action as IBF champion Evgeny Gradovich (19-0, 9) puts his world title on the line against fellow unbeaten fighter Jayson Velez (22-0, 16). The bout will Gradovich's 4th defence and will also be his toughest since he burst on to the worst scene with an upset win over Billy Dibb back in March 2013.
Gradovich, who originally hails from Russia though is now based in Oxnard, California, is a fighter that is hard to dislike. He has solid technical ability though is better known for his amazing engine and work rate. From the opening round to the final round we expect to see around 100 punches a round from the Russian who love to come forward, let his hands go and then let his hands go some more. It's not always the prettiest but it is effective and it drains opponents both physically and mentally.
Despite having one of the best engines in the game Gradovich has issues himself. The most obvious is his relative lack of power. He lands a lot of shots, every fight, but none of them ever seem to do much damage and his stoppages come from accumulation more than anything. Generally the work rate can force opponents back but unlike Walters and Gonzalez he won't take your head off when you make a mistake, instead he'll just 4 or 5 shots before letting you off the hook. His second issue is his defense which is sloppy at times, though it is masked by his work rate with the mentality seemingly that of a man who believes his offense is his best defense.
Whilst Gradovich is all about relentless aggression we'd describe Velez as beign a bit of a boxer-puncher. The Puerto Rican fighter remained relatively under-the-radar until a 2012 win over Salavadoz Sanchez saw him claiming the interim WBC silver Featherweight title. The win over Sanchez was the best of Velez's career and saw him rising the ocassion in style as he dominated the Mexican fighter outlanding him 4 to 1 and stopping him in just 3 rounds. In theory the win over Sanchez should have got Velez a shot at the WBC title, then held by Daniel Ponce De Leon, though he had been over-looked following the win and has instead had to go another route for a world title fight.
Since the win over Sanchez back in December 2012 Velez has fought just twice. One of those was an easy blow out against Miguel Soto earlier this year whilst in 2013 he had to labour to a hard fought win over Dat Nguyen who really gave Velez hell for the first 5 or 6 rounds before running out of steam. It's the Nguyen fight that interests us the most as he was the toughest fight of Velez's career and saw Velez need to dig deep to beat Nguyen who started well before fading. Velez was unable to stop the tough Vietnamese born fighter who, like Gradovich, takes a shot well.
Going in to this bout we're expecting a good fight with styles that we suspect will gel well. Gradovich's come forward mentality could back up Velez who may need to fight off the back foot as a counter puncher however Velez may himself choose to meet Gradovich centre ring in what would make for a really exciting fight.
On paper Velez is the better boxer but he is stepping up here whilst Gradovich is the better fighter and the more proven man. As is often the case we need to go with the proven fighter ahead of the man stepping up. With that said we'll be going with Gradovich to win a very exciting 12 round decision.
All too often in boxing we look at the records of fighters and base our opinions on those rather than the abilities or competition of those fighters involved. Sometimes it turns out to be a fair way to judge fighters ahead of a bout, especially when they have been competing at a similar level. Often however the numbers turn out not to be relatively of someones ability and in fact we often see that the more padded a record the less capable a fighter really is.
The debate about "quality versus quality" when it comes to experience is something that we know fans are split over with the western system often favour quantity of bouts over quality of bouts. Every so often however someone bucks the trend and is fast tracked. One such fighter is current WBO Featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (2-1, 1) who really is one of the most sensational fighters in the sport today. On paper Lomachenko's record is a stark contrast to his upcoming challenger, Thailand's Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (52-1, 33), and if we judged fights just from records this would be a mismatch in favour of the Thai. In reality however the men are in completely different leagues with Lomachenko being a truly elite talent whilst Chonlatarn is little more than a continental level fighter with a heavily boosted record.
For those who have followed Lomachenko over the years you will be fully aware that he has some of the most impressive amateur credentials in history, in fact some have described him as the greatest amateur boxer not just of his era but of all time. That assessment is fair and also exposes the idea that he is a "novice". As an amateur he fought almost 400 contests whilst picking up 2 Olympic gold medals, 3 world amateur championship gold medals, and a silver, and was among the most celebrated amateurs in history.
As a professional Lomachenko maintained the same attitude as he had when he was a amateur. He wants to fight the best, fight in and fight out. And the best thing about it is he has the self belief to do just that and seems unwilling to just pad his professional ledger with mismatches and pointless wins that serve little to no purpose. Of course this comes with a serious risk, as he saw in his second bout when he was narrowly out pointed by Orlando Salido in a WBO Featherweight title fight that saw Salido fail weight and land numerous low blows, however it comes with great reward as seen when he tied a world record for fewest fights to win a world title in his third bout, tying the long standing record of Thailand's Saensak Muangsurin.
Although Lomachenko has maintained much of his amateur style he always seemed to have a very professional looking amateur style. He fought behind a high guard, moving in and out swiftly, landing sharp and accurate shots and making his opponent miss. There hasn't been a huge amount of transitioning but thee hasn't needed to be and like the great Muay Thai guys who moved from Muay Thai to boxing with great success he's managed to use what he had practiced prior to becoming a professional boxer.
Despite only having fought thrice as a professional Lomachenko's opponents had a combined record of 99 wins, 15 losses, 2 draws and 1 no contest. That is unheard of though shows his belief and ability.
Whilst Lomachenko has been fast tracked in the extreme Chonlatarn has fought on the now typical Thai trajectory towards a world title. The Thai has been a pro since 2003 and has fought regularly though often against over-matched and under-skilled foes. With around 5 fights a year he has been very active by today's standards though only a handful of those bouts have been notable with the first of those being a 2006 encounter with former world champion Yoddamrong Sithyodthong. Sadly those notable bouts have been few and far between with 2 of them coming against Yoddamrong and a third, his only world title bout so far, against Chris John.
It was against John that we saw Chonlatarn step up to real world level for the first time and it was also when we saw his record, which was then 44-0 (27), wasn't indicative of his talent. The Thai showed the typical gameness and desire of most Thai fighters but he showed a lack of development, skills that were very under-whelming for such a "veteran" and highly questionable stamina as he was out worked and out boxed by the then 33 year old John. Aged 27 when he fought John we has expected so much more from the Thai and were left feeling very under-whelmed in a bout between two long unbeaten streaks.
Since the loss to John in 2012 we've seen the Thai continue on a similar career path to the one he was one prior to the John fight. He went back to the Thai scene packing up wins, 7 of them, against limited and over-matched foes whilst claimign regional titles in the form of the WBO Asia Pacific and PABA Featherweight belts. Those belts, which are often won by Thai's with incredibly long records, are geared towards gaining world rankings and playing the political games that the world bodies love to see fighters play. Unfortunately they also lead to mismatches, both on the "coming up stage" and in the eventual world title bout.
Going into this bout, a mandatory for Lomachenko, we can't see anything but an easy win for the very developed and amazingly talented champion who we suspect will give Chonlatarn a real boxing lesson before closing the show against a tired challenger in the second half of the contest. Essentially it is mandatory but will appear to be a showcase for the Ukrainian who will be looking for unification bouts in 2015. It may seem strange but we really suspect that Lomachenko has rushed his mandatory to get the fight out of the way and open the door to mega fights in 2015 without any other commitments for the year.
(Image courtesy of our friends at Thairec.com)
Unification bouts in boxing are very rare and generally they are worth getting excited about. Champion Vs Champion, the best vs the best. Sadly however with the WBA having 3 titles we seem to have seen more WBA unification fights recently than real unification bouts and we see another WBA unification bout this coming Saturday as WBA Featherweight super champion Nonito Donaire (33-2, 21) attempts to unify his title with the WBA Featherweight "regular" champion Nicholas Walters (24-0, 20) in what will be the second WBA unification bout in as many days.
Of the two men in action it's Donaire who is better known due to the fact the Filipino has long been one of the stars, and cash cows, of the lower weights. The American based fighter first made his name on the back of a scintillating win over Vic Darchinyan back in 2007 and since then has gone through the divisions picking up both world titles and notable scalps, such as Fernando Montiel, Toshiaki Nishioka and Omar Andres Narvaez. The success, and power, or Donaire has seen him become a favourite of the US boxing media and although he has struggled in recent years it does seem like there is still a lot for Donaire to achieve if he can get himself up for fights, which appears to be his biggest problem.
At his best Donaire is a counter punching destroyer as she showed against Montiel and Darchinyan. Sadly however when a fighter doesn't give Donaire some pretty clear openings he has struggled, as seen in the Narvaez fight and his somewhat recent loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux. At his core Donaire is a powerful and quick counter puncher who adds an air of excitement to every bout he's involved in with fans hoping to see him detonate a bomb on his opponent. Sadly though when an opponent is an unwilling dance partner Donaire can be made to look fundamentally limited and at times lost in the ring.
As for Walters he's a hard man to get a real read on. We've only seen a handful of his bouts and although the Jamaican has serious power he also seems to be developing in terms of timing, general skills and, worryingly for Donaire, patience. In the first few fights of Walters that we've seen he looked like a slugger and offensive mindset, the sort of guy that Donaire would typically feast on with no issues due to the openings that he used to leave.
Whilst he's a big puncher Walter's also has a few tricks up his sleeve. He's willing to take the 1/2 step back, he's willing to let the other man lead and he's capable of unleashing thunder from both hands. He's one of those fighters that others don't take risks against, in fact in many way's he's a lot like a younger version of Donaire albeit a cruder version of a young Donaire. Like a young a young Donaire Walters also appears big for the weight in which he's competing, something that certainly helped the Filipino fighter move up the weight classes. That size is likely to tell here and Walters is likely to look bigger than Donaire, by quite a margin.
Donaire at his best was brilliant. His stoppages against Darchinyan and Montiel were sensational and really made him a huge star and a real pound-for-pound fighter. Sadly those performances look to be well behind him and in recent fights he has looked like a man who is missing his sparkle and confidence. He's still talented but that lack of magic and desire is the difference between a world class fighter and an elite level fighter. and that lack of magic could cost him here.
What we think will happen is that both men will fight as counter punchers and neither will be willing to open up. This will lead to a very slow but tense fight with both men believing they have the power to stop the other. They style of fight won't be great to watch for the most part but as soon as one man leads the other will answer and we will get some very exciting exchanges between the two who will be trying to counter each other. When they do exchange Donaire will have the speed edge and Walters will have the size and power edge. It's a matter of who has the chin edge as to who will come out on top here. We tend to feel the size will be the difference and help Walters take the win however if Donaire connects clean there is every chance he will stop Walters.
The only thing we know for sure here is that we are looking forward to this fight and that either man can pick up the win in what promises to be a very interesting contest even if it's unlikely to be the most exciting bout of the weekend
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.