March is set to be an incredibly busy month with major bouts spread across the month. Despite the spread of bouts through the whole of Mach it's fair to say that the first week or so is genuinely hectic with a huge number of big bouts crushed into the first few days of March.
The first of those notable bouts will see WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (14-0, 6) defending his title against Japanese speedster Go Odaira (13-5-3, 1), in what will be Odaira's third world title shot in just over 2 years.
Coming in to the bout Knockout will be a clear favourite, for so many reasons. Not only is the unbeaten champion, and arguably the best fighter at 105lbs. His record may not be he deepest in the division but his recent wins over the likes of Carlos Buitrago, Alexis Diaz, Byron Rojas and Shin Ono have shown that he's a very talented fighter who is consistently developing his skills. He's not longer the powerful but crude fighter he once was and is a much more rounded boxer,
At his worst Knockout is a crude and slow fighter who looks predictable, as we saw in his first bout with Buitrago back in 2014. Since then he has improved significantly, and although he's still not lightening quick he is a much smoother fighter than he used to be. The smoothness has made other issues more visible and last time out, against Ono, he showed real pacing issues and looked exhausted in the later rounds. By then Ono was too far behind to capitalise but a better fighter could make Knockout pay in the future. Interestingly the bout with Ono saw Knockout's KO % fall to just 43% and was his 5th complete 12 rounder in his last 6, suggesting that he may not be the heavy handed puncher once looked like.
In the ring Odaira really is a speedy fighter, much like his mentor Susumu Hanagata. Odaira has lovely hand speed and movement, and is a a fighter who has had much of his success to date based on that speed. Unfortunately though he totally lacks power, physically he's also lacking and can be bullied around and has shown stamina issues of his own, and when his stamina is tested he seems to lack the durability to get through a storm. That has resulted in a 7th round TKO loss to Katsunari Takayama and a 5th round TKO loss to Wanheng Menayothin in his previous world title bouts
Although he has come up short in world title bouts in the past he has proven to be among the best on the Japanese domestic scene with a reign as the Japanese champion. As the domestic champion he recorded 3 defenses, beating the likes of Hiroya Yamamoto, Yuma Iwahashi and Yutaka Sowano. Sadly those defenses were against relatively poor opponents and came before the recent rise of fighters like Tatsuya Fukuhara, Ryuya Yamanaka, Tsubasa Koura, Reiya Konishi, Hiroto Kyoguchi and Masataka Taniguchi, who could have let us see how good Odaira really was.
Whilst Knockout will be the favourite based on his own ability Odaira will also have history working against him, with no Japanese fighter having ever won a world title bout in Thailand. In more than 20 contests Japanese fighters have been rebuked, with the “best” result being Hirofumi Mukai's technical draw with Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Saying that however Odaira has been planning ahead and this will be his third bout on the Land of Smiles and may well call on that experience with the Thai conditions here.
Although Odaira has got some experience of Thailand it's hard to see him having enough skills or experience to survive the 12 rounds with Knockout. Instead we're expecting to see another bout where Odaira starts well before falling apart in the middle rounds. Hopefully with Knockout shining enough to entice some of the new wave of Japanese fighters to challenge him, rather than having to reuse challengers like Odaira and Ono in the future
So far world title action in Asia has been lacking for 2016 with Thailand really stealing all the headlines at the world level. That changes in early March, however the first title bout of the new month is another from the Land of Smiles and is one that in all honesty looks like being a bit of a mismatch in favour of the champion, and one of the sport's most under-rated champions.
That champion is 30 year old Thai Wanheng Menayothin (40-0, 15) who looks to defend the WBC Minimumweight title for the 4th time since ripping it out of the hands of Mexican Oswaldo Novoa in late 2014. The under-rated, and unbeaten, Thai will be up against a former title challenger in the form of Go Odaira (12-4-3, 1), a speed but feather fisted challenger.
Wanheng has one of the sports longest unbeaten records, and it's a record that dates back more than 9 years. Although he holds a long unbeaten record it's one that can easily be criticised with the Thai having only faced a couple of “names” in his 40 fights as a professional.
The first of those names was Florante Condes, who Wanheng beat way back in June 2011. Sadly it would take more than 3 years for him to then face Novoa, one of the poorest champions in recent memory. Since winning the title Wanheng has again failed to face notable opponents, and has instead beaten the likes of Jeffrey Galero, a promising but unproven Filipino youngster, Jerry Tomogdan and limited Korean slugger Young Gil Bae, none of whom deserved a world title fight.
Although Wanehng's record is very thin on names he really does pass the eye test. Defensively he's a very tough boxer to figure out, with a tight guard and an intelligent defensive game plan. Offensively he's a wonderful boxer to watch, applying grinding pressure from the early stages to eventually break his opponents, either mentally or physically. On paper one would assume he's not a puncher, but he has stopped 4 of his last 5 opponents and it seems that he manages to keep his grinding power into the later stages of bouts.
Of course with 40 bouts there will be some wear and tear, but given his tight defensive work Wanheng does look like a very young 30 year old, and despite having 319 rounds on his record he'll be around for a while yet.
Although the challenger it's fair to suggest that Odaira has mixed with better company than the champion. That's because Odaira has shared the ring with Katsunari Takayama, the only man to stop Odaira, with the two facing off at the end of 2014 in an IBF/WBO Minimumweight title bout. He has also fought Ryuji Hara and holds a notable win over former world title challenger Takashi Kunishige.
In the ring Odaira is all about speed, much like his mentor Susumu Hanagata, a former WBA Flyweight champion. Interestingly Hanagata will be one of the biggest helps that Odaira will have with the former champion having already experienced Thai conditions in a competitive loss to Chartchai Chionoi back in 1973, incidentally it was Chionoi who Hanagata beat for his world title in Japan the following year.
Blessed with incredible hand speed and brilliant movement Odaira's gameplan will be be based on getting his shots off and getting away. That sounds easy but in Thailand that's incredibly difficult so he actually spend extra days in Thailand getting used to the heat, humidity and other aspects of the weather. He'll be hoping that helps him prepare, but unfortunately for him the Thai conditions are only part of the problem, with Wanheng being another. Wanheng's style is one that will see Odaira working doubly hard to get out of range, and he will really have to work double hard to avoid the champion.
Although a wonderfully talented boxer this is a very uphill task for Odaira who seems likely to put into a small ring and chased down by Wanheng. We suspect the challenger will have a great start, and will looks sensational at times, but by the middle rounds he'll begin to slow and the champion will start to take over before forcing a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
(Image courtesy of The Champion - Thailand)
Boxing really does seem to throw out some oddities. Often we get judging and refereeing that leaves a lot to be desired, at the end of the 2014 however we get an oddity by which two world titles will be unified despite the fact neither man involved in the bout goes into the contest as a current champion. The bout, which will be for the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles, has come about after both titles were vacated by Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr and although it's an oddity we suspect it'll be one of the most entertaining fights in recent memory.
The bout in question will see former 3-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (27-7-0-1, 10) battling against Japanese champion Go Odaira (11-3-3, 1). and as you can tell from their records neither man is a puncher though both are tough, active and all action with puncher numbers that many fighters could only dream of.
Originally the bout was set to be just for the IBF title, which Rodriguez had vacated a while back whilst considering his options for the future. Soon after Rodrgiuez then vacated the WBO belt with it becoming obvious that he was leaving the division due to weight struggle. That then allowed the WBO to put their title on the line giving a very peculiar situation, and one made stranger by the fact Rodriguez unified the titles with a victory over Takayama.
Whilst Takayama did lose to Rodriguez, in a genuine 2014 FOTY contender, he is a bonafide world class Minimumweight. He is universally regarded in the top 10 and may well be the stand out fighter currently without a title. That may seem hard to believe considering his record but Takayama has always shown a willingness to fight the best and, as a result, has suffered losses to elite level fighters. Not only has he been fighting the best but he has also shown a willingness to travel to the champions back yard where he has certainly had some misfortune go against him.
Going through the record of Takayama reads like a who's who of the top Minimumweights from the last 10 years. It includes the likes of Isaac Bustos, Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Of those men it was was only really Roman Gonzalez that dominated Takayama, and in fact had Takayama all over the place late in the bout. Not only doe these bouts prove Takayama belongs at the world level but they'll have also helped him develop as a fighter giving him rounds, and rounds, of top level experience.
At best Takayama is capable of boxing and moving, as he did wonderfully against Vergilio Silvano, though he often seems to get himself involved in fan friendly tear ups showing a real heart and determination to not only win but excite fans whilst winning. Sadly for a man who enjoys a brawl Takayama does lack real power but makes up for it in terms of his insane toughness, workrate and his refusal to just lose.
Whilst Takayama is well known by fans of the lower weights due to his bouts against the crem de la crem the same cannot be said for Odaira who is completely unknown to those who don't follow the Japanese scene.
Prior to this year Odaira was a genuine unknown, even for those who followed Japanese boxing religiously. He was 8-3-3 (1), had never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 8 rounds and, aside from a victory over Takashi Kunishige, and a loss to the then unproven Ryuji Hara, there was little on his record to talk about. This year however has been a genuine career year already for Odaira who has won the Japanese Minimumweight title, with a decision over Masashi Tada, and defended it twice by over-coming Yuma Iwahashi and Hiroya Yamamoto.
In all 3 of his wins this year Odaira has looked like a fighter who is improving and developing a real understand of what is it, to be a professional boxer. He seems to know his weaknesses and his strengths and has really began fighting like a man who knows who he needs to do to make the most of his career. That has seen him focussing on his natural speed, his movement and his energy. He now fights a lot like his manager Susumu Hanagata and is always on the move, always looking to pump out the jab and always trying to be busy. He knows he's not going to knock fighters out but knows there's more than one way to skin a cat and winning with crisp punching is just as good as winning by knockout. Notably the style did take Hanagata to a world title back in the 1970's.
Although Odaira has speed to burn he is stepping up in class, notably for this bout and really hasn't shared the ring with anyone quite like Takayama. That's not to say he can't hold his own but that he is stepping up massively for this bout and that can come with a lot of pressure, especially given that this will be his first near the top of a major show with fans around the world tuning in.
What we're expecting here is for both men to begin the contest with boxing in mind. Both will punch on the move and try to work their way in. It's what happens in the second stage of the contest that really decides how this bout goes. If Takayama can hold his own in terms of boxing with Odaira this could be a really high paced boxing contest with both throw copious amounts of jabs. Alternatively if Takayama feels he can't box the boxer then he'll bring the fight and we'll have Takayama trying to brawl with Odaira in what would make for one of the most action packed fights of the year.
If it does turn into a brawl then the action will be insane. Neither man will be expected to hurt the other and will feel they need to out work the other man leading to long and exciting trading sequences between two men. When they happen we suspect Takayama will get the upper hand and will do enough to impress the judges with his more varied assaults up close.
If the bout doesn't break out into a brawl we suspect Takayama takes a close and very competitive decision, if he can force the brawl and exchanges then he'll take home a clearer win.
We suspect Takayama will win and become the first 4-time world champion from Japan and the first Japanese fighter to claim a version of all 4 belts. If Odaira wins however then he has a serious claim for being the breakthrough fighter of the year, even surpassing Amnat Ruenroeng in that respect. It really would complete an amazing year for Yokohama man.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
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.