The Light Flyweight division, as regular readers of this website will be aware of, is one of our favourites with so much depth and great fights taking place on a regular basis. The next one of those great match ups takes place this coming Sunday as Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12) defends his WBA “super”, IBF and Ring Magazine titles against South African challenger Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10), himself a former WBA Minimumweight champion. For Taguchi the bout will be his first as a unified champion, in fact it will be the first ever time a Japanese fighter will be looking to defend unified titles.
Taguchi's rise in the last few years has been remarkable. The freakishly tall and rangy Tokyo fighter debuted back in 2006 and didn't get his first title fight until 2012, when he fought to a draw with Masayuki Kuroda for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Going into that bout Taguchi had gone 16-1 (7) and wasn't really looking like a future world champion. Since the draw with Kuroda we've seen Taguchi blossom into a fantastic fighter, going 11-1-1, with his only loss coming to Naoya Inoue. Not only has he racked up a solid looking run but he's gone on to beat top fighters, such as Florante Condes, Alberto Rossel, Kwanthai Onesongchaigym, Ryo Miyazaki, Robert Barrera and, most recently, Milan Melindo.
In the ring Taguchi is a freakishly big fighter at 108lbs, he has long rangy arms and can strike from distance though more often than not he seems to enjoy an up close battle on the inside, and has surprising ability inside the pocket. He combines his size with excellent stamina and work rate and has very under-rated power and a really gritty toughness. Although not a 1-punch KO artist he has been either dropping, cutting or hurting his opponents on a regular basis at world level and not many fighters seem to engage him in a war. The Watanabe man not only combines, size, skills and his in ring traits but also confidence and experience with a wealth of experience not only in the ring but also in the gym, rising through the ranks whilst in the same gym as Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono.
For Budler this bout is a second shot at a Light Flyweight title, having come up just short against Milan Melindo in a thrilling contest last year. The South African was a top Minimumweight for years and scored notable wins over the likes of Florante Condes, Nkosinathi Joyi, Pigmy Kokietgym, Xiong Zhao Zhong, Jesus Silvestre and Simphiwe Khonco. He was a long standing IBO champion and held the WBA title for a couple of years before losing to Byron Rojas in March 2016. That loss was Budler's final fight at 105lbs before he moved up in weight defeated and claimed two minor titles as he prepared to face Melindo, losing a really good split decision bout to the Filipino.
In the ring Budler is a speedy fighter who finds himself in grinding contests up close. His bouts are rarely pretty, but they are often fun with a lot of leather being thrown. Although a grinding fighter Budler can box on the outside and can use his skills to maintain distance when he needs to. Budler is impressive with his speed, his stamina and determination, but lacks in terms of power and only has two stoppages in the last 4 years, coming against Joey Canoy and Pigmy Kokietgym. The lack of power at world level is a problem for the South African, and have resulted in the 29 year old racking up over 275 rounds already in his career, an average of just over 8 rounds a fight.
Given that Budler likes to trade blows we can't see how he comes out on top here. We imagine Budler's gritty mentality will always keep him in the fight, and make for some thrilling moments, but his lack of power will fail to get Taguchi's respect and the Japanese fighter will simply out work, out battle and out punch the smaller man. Budler will certainly have some moments, especially when he uses his speed, but on the whole he'll not have the power or physicality to win the rounds. Taguchi may look to use his height at times, though we suspect he'll try not to fight at range and instead choose to swarm Budler and neutralise the South African's edge in speed.
We don't see Budler being stopped, but we see a clear decision going in favour of the unified champion.
Filipino boxing is in an interesting position right now as the older generation, such as Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire and Donnie Nietes, look to be coming to the end of their career just at the same time as a new batch of top fighters are making their mark. One of those new batch of fighters is 29 year old Milan Melindo (36-2, 13), who won the IBF Light Flyweight title earlier this year in his third world title shot.
This coming weekend Melindo makes his first defense of the title and looks to continue the momentum his career has, and continue to build the growing excitement in Filipino boxing, which has a host of promising prospects. Not only is Melindo looking to defend his title for the first time, but he's willing to do it against a really notable challenger as he battles South African Hekkie Budler (31-2, 10), a former WBA and IBO Minimumweight champion.
Melindo is one of the more technically capable Filipino's making a mark on the sport. He's much more in the guise of ALA stablemate Donnie Nietes than the power punching Nonito Donaire or the whirlwind punching Manny Pacquiao. He may lack real lights out power, but he can hit solidly enough, and places shots really well, as seen in his opening round destruction of Akira Yaegashi back in May.
Not only is Melindo a very technically sound boxer but he's also someone with a record to back up his skills, with wins against the likes of Muhammad Rachman, Carlos Tamara, Francisco Rosas, Jesus Geles, Jean Piero Perez, Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Martin Tecuapetla, Saul Juarez, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Yaegashi That sort of record mixes wins over champions with wins over a lot of notable divisional contenders as Melindo has kept himself in the mix, despite defeats to Juan Francisco Estrada and Javier Mendoza.
Although wonderfully skilled Melindo does have his flaws. As mentioned he lacks a bit on the power side of things and he can, at times, look very lazy and be out worked. If an opponent can press him back and get out before taking a counter Melindo can occasionally be handcuffed by an aggressive opponent. If that happens he could find himself losing rounds in bouts that can make things very close on the scorecards.
South African fighter Budler was arguably the biggest name in South African boxing the last few years, and his reign as the WBA champion at 105lbs began in 2014 and lasted until 2016, when he lost a thriller to Byron Rojas. As the champion he defended the belt 4 times, with 3 of those defenses coming in Monaco. Although a light punching fighter Budler has no issues with going to war and fights against the likes of Rojas, Simphiwe Khonco and Jesus Silvestre were thrillers through and through. It's also worth noting that before he actually won the title he had other notable wins against Florante Condes and Nkosinathi Joyi, two former world champions.
Although a former champion at 105lbs Budler isn't actually a natural at the weight, having started his career at 108lbs, before dropping down. He's now moved back up and is likely to be a stronger fighter back up at Light Flyweight, where he's not draining too much, and can instead concentrate on training first rather than making weight first. That should help him physical strength and stamina, however he has had a draining career and it's interesting to wonder just how long he can continue to fight in the draining manner that he has been recently. He is a battler, with high output, but every fighter like that eventually wears out, especially when they don't have much power and keeps going the distance.
Coming in to this bout it has the ingredients of something special. With Budler's aggression, and knowing he needs to win clearly to get a decision in the Philippines, against Melindo and his incredible skills and pure boxing. This should lead to a nice gelling of styles, with Budler getting up close and forcing the action, and Melindo having chances to land heavy counters up close. Budler will certainly win rounds, but we tend to feel that home advantage and the cleaner punches will get Melindo his first defense, in a very fun and exciting contest.
The Minimumweight division may have been widely ignored by the casual fans through it's short history but it's a division which has given us a lot of great fights in recent years. Those fights have including unification wars, such as the Kazuto Ioka/Akira Yaegashi fight from back in 2012, or this year's scintillating war between Katsunari Takayama and Francisco Rodriguez Jr, as well as single-title slug fests like Yaegashi's war with Pornnsawan Porpramook. Sadly whilst the division is one of the very best for fans who enjoy a great fight it's also been a disappointing year for Asian fighters with 3 Asian's losing Minimumweight world titles already this year.
One of those 3 men was China's Xiong Zhao Zhong (24-5-1, 14) who had his WBC title taken in shocking fashion when he met Oswaldo Novoa and was dominated by the Mexican under-dog. Whilst it's fair to say we all under-rated Novoa, who was a relative unknown, it was still an huge upset and one of the most shocking results of the year, especially given that the bout was fought in Zhong's native China.
Zhong went into that bout as the first and only Chinese world champion. This coming weekend Zhong will attempt to become China's first 2-time world champion as he attempts to claim the WBA title from the highly regarded South African speedster Hekkie Budler (26-1, 9), a man looking for back-to-back wins against Asian fighters following his stoppage victory last time out against Pigmy Kokietgym, and in fact he'll be hunting his 4th successive stoppage.
Although a divisive fighter Zhong is someone we respect even if we don't consider ourselves fans of his. He is the figure head of Chinese boxing in the mainland and although he's over-shadowed by Zou Shiming's fights in Macau Zhong has achieved more as a professional than any other Chinese fighter. He's done that not through skill and ability but sheer tenacity, bravery, natural strength and toughness, both mentally and physically.
Zhong is one of the most diminutive professional boxers in the sport right now and even for a Minimumweight he's short. Despite his lack of height he is built like a tank and looks strong, powerful and muscular for a guy fighting in the sports lowest weight class. It's that power and toughness that has seen him achieve what he has in his career. Strangely for a fighter built like he is however Zhong isn't a big puncher and instead needs to grind opponents for stoppages. Against lower tier fighters that works perfect, as shown in his some what embarrassing win over Thailand's Lookrak Kiatmungmee. Against the better fighters that he has faced however he has struggled to really impose himself due to a lack of technical ability and a relative lack of speed compared to his fellow Minimumweights. And although some may point out that he holds a win over the exceptional Denver Cuello, those people do need to note that that came more from Cuello's health issues as opposed to Zhong's actual boxing ability.
If we accept that Zhong is like a tank, with power and rugged toughness then Budler is like the opposite. He's tough like Zhong but trades off on his speed as opposed to power. Budler is quick, sharp and highly skilled. He's a fighter who will land 2 or 3 punches whilst an opponent is thinking about their next move and then he'll get out of range before an opponent can reply. It's his speed, both with feet and hands, that makes Budler such a brilliant fighter in the division and one of the men that could become a long reigning champion at the weight.
What Budler has done over the years is improve and develop. Watching him from 2010 and 2011 he looked like a man who was going to struggle to advance. It was during that time the Budler suffered his sole loss, a split decision to fellow South African Gideon Buthelezi, and struggled with the likes of Juanito Rubillar and Evaristo Primero, since then though he has improved drastically and become his own fighter, as shown in his wins over the likes of Florante Condes and Nkosinathi Joyi.
Whilst sometimes the limited but stronger fighter can over-come the quicker and more skilled fighter those bouts are rare and we suspect that Budler will be too quick, too smart and too good for Zhong. The Chinese fighter is likely to be tough and game throughout but unlikely to actually be competitive in terms of winning rounds. He'll make Budler work in stages but not enough to really mount a serious challenger in a bout that will help enhance the standing of the South African fighter.
If he wins here wouldn't say Budler was the de facto #1 in the division but it looks to be between him and Francisco Rodriguez Jr and a bout between those two would, in our eyes, be for the #1 position. Hopefully 2015 will bring us a contest like that or we'll get the chance to see Katsunari Takayama share the ring with one of them with the Japanese fighter certainly still a proven top tier fighter in the division.
(Image courtesy of Zovi.cn)
Whilst many fight fans over-look the smallest division in the sport we genuinely love the Minimumweight division and consider Katsunari Takayama as one of our favourites due to his willingness to fight anyone. Amongst those that Takayama has been linked to in recent months is South Africa's WBA champion Hekkie "The Hexecutioner" Budler (25-1, 8).
Budler is widely regarded as either the #1 or the #2 fighter in the division along with Takayama who fills out the top 2 with most fans and independent rankings.
Although not much of a puncher Budler is still a nightmare to fight. He's quick on his feet, accurate with his punches and is very sharp with his shots which are often thrown in buzzsaw like combinations. It's not that he's going to knock out rivals regularly or hurt them but he's going to keep stinging them until whilst making them miss, a bit like Takayama does when he's at his best.
The lack of power hasn't prevented Budler from becoming an elite level buzzsaw who has managed to score notable wins against the likes of Florante Condes and Nkosinathi Joyi, both of whom are world class fighters even if they were slightly on the slide to what they were once.
This weekend sees Budler defending his WBA title against experienced Thai Pigmy Kokietgym (52-6-2, 22) who is stepping up to world class for just the second time in his long career.
The 32 year old Pigmy debuted way back in 1999 and began his career with an unconvincing 12-5-1 (8). Since then however he gone an amazing 40-1-1 (14) and established himself as one of the busiest men on the Thai boxing scene with around 4 bouts per year for the last 10 years. Of course, as we all know, Thai's are busy fighters though tend to fight a lot of poor fighters in an attempt to just stay busy and keep paydays coming in and unfortunately this has been the case with Pigmy who's most notable wins have come against very limited opponents.
Although he has 60 fights on his record Pigmy has only fought in 1 world title fight, losing that to the then unbeaten Kwanthai Sithmorseng on November 2010 via a split decision. Although he gave a great account of himself in that fight he still came up short and has been effectively put on the side until now.
Much like Budler, Pigmy is a fighter who basis his work on speed and tries to break down fighters or out point them with volume as opposed to blasting through opponents. He's not quite as sharp or technically correct as Budler but he's got the Thai warrior mentality and will continually take the fight to an opponent meaning that this could be a very interesting contest to watch.
Sadly for Pigmy the deck is stacked against him and whilst stylistically he and the South African are similar everything else is against the Thai. Pigmy at 32 years old, is getting on for a Minimumweight whilst the 26 year old Budler is just hitting his prime, the fight will be in Monaco on a show promoted by Golden Gloves Promotions, the company who back Budler, and it'll be the first bout outside of Asia for Pigmy.
We're expecting a very fun to watch battle here with both men throwing a hell of a lot at the other but unfortunately for Pigmy we simply can't see him over-coming the smarter, faster and every so slightly more powerful South African who appears to have all the advantages both out of the ring and in the ring. Thankfully with all the action we're expecting we're unlikely to find much to complain about after the fight which we're hoping could steal the show.
(Image courtesy of Golden Gloves Promotions, unfortunately it only features Budler and Martin Murray and not Pigmy)
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.