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.
From April 2005 to April 2010 Hozumi Hasegawa (35-5, 15) was the star of Japanese boxing. He was the WBC Bantamweight champion, a pound-for-pound fighter and a man who oozed style and charisma. He wasn't quite the sensation that predecessor Joichiro Tatsuyoshi was, but he was still the star and the face of Japanese boxing. Since 2010 however things have been tough for the Hyogo man who has suffered 3 stoppage losses and has long looked like a fighter holding on to past glories.
This coming Friday we see Hasegawa back in the ring and looking to become a 3-weight world champion as he challenges WBC Super Bantamweight champion Hugo Ruiz (36-3, 32), a huge punching, aggressively minded fighter with a point to prove. He's defending his title for the first time, travelling to a country where he suffered a controversial loss and looking to add a huge name to his record, albeit a faded name.
At his best Hasegawa was a truly brilliant fighter. His record might not show it but he had venom in hands, as Veeraphol Sahaprom found out in their second bout, blistering hand speed and a lighting quick boxing brain. Hasegawa would do what so few can and draw a lead from an opponent, avoid it then counter with a flurry of hard shots.
Fight fans and opponents both seemed to think that Hasegawa was feather fisted but stoppages against the likes of Sahaprom and Vusi Malinga, who he stopped inside a round, showed that Hasegawa had power as well as speed. Sadly though as he got older he got slower and the split second timing that he had in his prime started to fade. As that timing faded his defense began to show cracks and he would go on to suffer stoppages to Fernando Montiel, Jhonny Gonzalez and Kiko Martinez. The loses to Montiel and Gonzalez weren't too painful but he was given a real battering by Martinez in what should really have been his final bout.
Aged 35 and with just 2 wins in the last 3 years ud wonder how Hasegawa has gotten a world title fight but it's clear he knows this will be his final chance.
Ruiz is much less distinguished than Hasegawa but at 29 he's in his prime, at 5'9” he's a huge Bantamweight and with an 82% KO rate he's a really dangerous fighter. It's fair to say he lacks in terms of notable wins, with his best victories coming against Julio Ceja, Yonfrez Parejo and Francisco Arce,but that is one of the very few criticisms that you can make of Ruiz.
The champion won his title back in February when he stopped Ceja in 51 seconds, avenging a 2015 defeat to his fellow Mexican. The defeat Ceja is one of only two losses that Ruiz has suffered in the last 8 years, with the other boxing a split decision in Japan to Koki Kameda, a decision that has left Ruiz wanting to prove a point on his return to Japan. Despite the loss to Kameda the visitor doesn't seem to be worried about the conditions in Japan and seemed to suggest that he wanted to return to defend his title in the country.
Although Ruiz is flawed, particularly in his defense, he is a very devastating and powerful fighter. He's the type of guy who hurts anyone when he lands cleanly and can't be taken lightly, as Ceja found out. He's heavy handed in both hands. Powerful, physically strong and well schooled. He's a little loopy with his shots but they have so much venom that fighters don't seem willing, or capable of, taking advantage.
Ruiz against a prime Hasegawa would have been a brilliant match up that we'd have looked forward too knowing that it could go either way. Against this Hasegawa however we can't see anything but a win for the Mexican who we suspect will be too big, too strong, too fresh,too heavy handed and too powerful for the Japanese veteran. Hasegawa might have his moments but we can't imagine him hearing the final bell here.
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.