For our money the Light Flyweight division is, by far, the best in the sport today. It has the best collection of fighters, the deepest depth, the best mixture of contenders, champions and prospects, and so many fantastic match ups are actually being made there. This coming Sunday we get one of those great match ups, as IBF champion Felix Alvarado (34-2, 30) takes on Japanese challenger Reiya Konishi (17-1, 7). For the champion this will be his first defense, whilst the challenger gets his second shot at a world title. Stylistically this promises intense action, great back and forth, something really special, though it's hard to see Alvarado not entering as a clear favourite.
The champion is one of the hardest hitting fighters in the sport today, at least on a pound for pound basis. His last 16 bouts have seen him going 16-0 (15) and he has only gone the distance once since suffering back to back decision losses to Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco, both on the road. Whilst no one questions the loss to Ioka, who moved too much and was too smart for Alvarado, there was plenty of frustration in regards to his loss to Reveco, where deductions for low blows, and some weird looking scoring seemed to play a factor.
On one hand Reveco's competition hasn't been the best, he has lost to his two most notable opponents and doesn't have wins over many notable names. In fact much of his career has been spent on the Nicaraguan domestic scene. Saying that however he does hold two very good wins, stopping both Fahlan Sakkrerin Jr and Randy Petalcorin in the last 2 years. Fahlan was stopped in brutal fashion whilst Petalcorin was battered, going down 3 times in round 7. Both those bouts proved that Alvarado can step up to world level, is legitimately dangerous and although not the smoothest of boxers he is aggressive, bringing relentless pressure and breaking people down both mentally and physically. He can be out boxed, but it's going to take a fighter with amazing stamina, movement and ring craft to out boxing him. As for trying to out fight Alvarado, that seems like a silly gameplan, and although there are, maybe, one or two fighters who would fancy their chances we don't think any would be given more than 50-50 shot at winning a war with him.
Konishi on the other hand is more of a volume punching brawler than a power punching monster. A style that probably won't bode well against Alvarado. Konishi first made his name at Minimumweight, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014 and then the Japanese title in 2017. As the Japaese champion he made 2 defenses before out growing the division and battling against Carlos Canizales for the WBA regular Light Flyweight title, and losing a competitive decision to the hard hitting Venezuelan. Since that loss Konishi has managed to win, and defend, the WBO Asia Pacific title, though has done so against fighters a long way removed from world class.
In the ring Konishi is very much an in your face fighter, who fights at close range, bring the action and tries to close the distance, though isn't actually the quickest fighter out there. It can make his fights very messy at times, with head clashes having occurred in a number of his bouts at domestic level, and can also leave him open to looking silly, chasing quicker opponents around and not getting close. When he does get in range he really targets the body well, and looks to slow opponents down, a tactic that is a pretty clever given his own flaws.
Sadly the lack pop on Konishi's shots are going to make this a very, very tough assignment for him and he's going to either have to find a whole new plan B or struggle in a war with someone so much stronger and more powerful.The body shots that Konishi loves to throw could help him, but we suspect the risks he takes to throw them will be his undoing and Alvarado will simply win the war up close, pushing the challenger around and eventually stopping him.
Prediction TKO8 Alvarado
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On May 18, at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, 2 World champions meet in the second round of the Bantamweight WBSS tournament, as the WBA (Regular) champion Naoya Inoue goes one on one with the IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez, with both titles on the line, as well as the vacant Ring Magazine championship.
Naoya Inoue (17-0/15 KOs) is considered to be one of the best boxers that have come out of Japan. His power, agility and precision have brought him immense success, while he is already ranked in the top 10 (P4P) list by The Ring, ESPN, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and others.
Before becoming a pro, he had a relatively short but rather accomplished amateur career, amassing 75 victories in 81 outings, with 48 of them being stoppages. Naoya won numerous (inter) high school tournaments, earned the gold at the 2011 Indonesia Presidential Cup and became the All Japan Light Flyweight champion, the same year. He also placed high at the Asian & World championships.
In 2012, the Monster finally made his pro debut and quickly made himself a guy to look out for. After going 3-0 in less than a year, he was set to face Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4) for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Taguchi, at 18-1, not only was he the more experienced of the two, but he was also a world ranked fighter. Inoue displayed much aggressiveness, taking control of the fight from the opening round. We saw a lot of his body work at display, which became one of his biggest weapons as his career progressed. After 10 rounds of action, the youngster took a clear unanimous decision win (one of only the two times a fight of his has gone the distance) and the belt. Taguchi eventually went on to become the WBA, IBF & The Ring Light Flyweight World champion.
Just 4 months later, he fought Jerson Mancio (18-6) for the vacant OPBF Light Flyweight title. Naoya’s offense was too fast for the Filipino. He weakened his opponent with body shots, before the referee was forced to stop the fight in the 5th as Mancio was getting repeatedly tagged.
It wasn’t long after that Inoue received his first world title shot against Adrian Hernandez (30-5) on April of 2014. The 2 time WBC Light Flyweight World champion had marked 4 successful title defenses coming into this one. Both strong body punchers, Hernandez seemed to be gaining ground in the 4th round but Naoya quickly bounced back with some heavy shots of his own. It was an even match until the 6th when the Japanese Monster dropped El Confesor with a lighting fast right hook, who despite getting up, refused to continue. As a result, Inoue was declared the World champion at 21 years of age, in only his 6th professional bout.
Inoue defended the WBC title only once against Wittawas Basapean (34-9), before moving 2 weight classes up and within the same year, he challenged Omar Andres Narvaez (48-3) for the WBO Super Flyweight World championship. Narvaez, a 1999 Pan American Games winner, enjoyed a 7 year reign with the WBO Flyweight World title (16 defenses) prior to winning the Super Flyweight strap, which he had held for 4 years at the time (11 defenses). This was meant to be the Japanese fighter’s toughest test yet. Instead, it turned out to be one of his most dominant performances, as he dropped the veteran 4 times in just 2 rounds, sealing the deal with the liver shot, to become a 2 division World champion. That was the sole KO loss in Narvaez’s career.
The Monster remained champion for 3.5 years, reaching an impressive number of 7 title defenses. Warlito Parrenas (26-9), Karoon Jarupianlerd (42-9), Ricardo Rodriguez (16-7) and Antonio Nieves (18-2) were easy work for him, as neither of them was close to his level. David Carmona (21-6) did better, simply because Naoya injured his right hand during the match. Still, he managed to outclass his opponent, even put him down in the last round, earning his second and last decision victory. Yoan Boyeaux (41-6), another promising challenger, was on a 31 fight winning streak (close to 5 years unbeaten) and with 26 KOs under his belt. This also ended up being a one sided beatdown, with Inoue scoring 4 knockdowns in less than 8 minutes.
His best challenge was against the 2 time WBA Super Flyweight World champion Kohei Kono (33-12) on December of 2016. Kono came out strong in the beginning, connecting with some good punches, surprising Inoue for a while. Before you know it, this was turned into a wild brawl with both men bringing the heat and exciting the fans. All that changed in the 6th when Naoya landed a perfect left hook that floored the former champ and proceeded to finish him off a couple of seconds later, putting an end to this thrilling encounter.
In 2018, Inoue decided to enter the Bantamweight ranks and immediately challenged the WBA (Regular) title holder Jamie McDonnell (29-3). The Yorkshire native hadn’t suffered a single loss in a decade (22 fights). A former British, Commonwealth, European & IBF Bantamweight World champion, McDonnell was his best opponent since Narvaez. The Monster, true to his nickname, overwhelmed the champ with powerful shots, dropping him in the very 1st round. McDonnell managed to stand up again, but found himself trapped against the ropes as Naoya delivered a lethal flurry to get the KO. After the fight, the Japanese superstar announced his participation at the Bantamweight WBSS and in October he was matched against the former WBA (Super) World champion Juan Carlos Payano (21-2). In what was voted as one of the best knockouts of 2018, Inoue nailed him with a straight right and put his lights out, in just 70 seconds into the fight. Both McDonnell & Payano had never been stopped in their entire career.
Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0), the reigning IBF Bantamweight World champion, unlike his Japanese foe, had quite an extensive run as an amateur. His most noteworthy accolades took place in 2010, when he won the gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games and the silver at the Youth World Championships. Amongst his 182 bouts (171 victories), he owned wins over the likes of AIBA Youth World & Central American and Caribbean Games champion Jonathan Gonzalez (22-2) as well as the current WBO Light Flyweight World titlist Angel Acosta (20-1).
As a pro, he mostly fought in his home country of Puerto Rico against local competition. In 2015, he KOed world title contender Luis Hinojosa (31-16), with a stunning right cross, in the 3rd round. He also picked up 2 decisions over former challengers such as David Quijano (16-7) and Alberto Guevara (27-4).
Rodriguez fought the former IBF Bantamweight World champion Paul Butler (28-2) for the same vacant title, on May of 2018. Butler was on a 9 fight winning streak since losing the belt. The Mexican fighter knocked him down twice in the opening round, once with the right and then with the left hook. Rodriguez continued to control the pace until the end, thus winning a wide decision and was declared the new World champion.
His 1st defense took place in October, against the WBA Oceania & Commonwealth champion Jason Moloney (18-1), as part of the WBSS. The Australian was undefeated at 17-0 when he entered the tournament. Much like Naoya Inoue, Manny utilized some excellent body work that, in the long run, won him the fight. Moloney started to put on a better offense half way through, giving the champ some trouble, especially in the closing rounds. When the final bell rang, Rodriguez was awarded a split decision to advance to the semi finals.
It’s obvious that Rodriguez has the better amateur pedigree than most of Inoue’s opponents, but he hasn’t faced the same caliber of competition as a pro. Moreover, both of his world championship fights has gone the distance and he hasn’t finished anyone since 2017. On the other hand, Naoya has been on a path of destruction, knocking out top contenders and champions alike, for 5 years straight (minus 1 match). It’s seemingly impossible to stop him at this point of his career, especially after the dominant 2018 he had. Considering that in his last 2 fights he spent a total of 3 minutes in the ring, it will be a surprise if Manny makes it past the 5th round.
The Flyweight division is one of the most interesting right now, with no fighter clearly standing out as being the best. There are strong arguments for any of the champions to be regarded as the number 1. We suspect that Kosei Tanaka will become the top guy, if he stays in the division for a while, but Charlie Edwards, Artem Dalakian and Moruti Mthalane all have a good argument to be regarded as the best.
This coming Monday Moruti Mthalane (37-2, 25) gets a chance to strengthen his claim as the best as he defends his IBF title against mandatory challenger Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16) of Japan. Kuroda isn't the best in the Land of the Rising Sun, that's clearly Tanaka, but is a world class veteran getting his second shoot at a title. Mthlane on the other hand will be getting a chance to make his second defense of second reign, and continue his mini-tour of Asia.
Aged 36 Mthalane is a proper veteran of the sport. He's been a professional since 2000 and is a legitimate 2-time IBF champion with a criminally under-rated resume and a 10 year unbeaten run. He's proven to be a technically excellent fighter with great timing, under-rated speed, brilliant accuracy and very solid defense. Through his career he has typically been an aggressive counter punching fighter, and it's a style that has had real success for the South African.
Going through Mthalane's record is like going through a mini who's who of lower weight fighters from the last decade or so. He's scored notable wins over Hussein Hussein, Julio Cesar Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though management issues cost him activity during some of his prime years, and he certainly missed out on some notable opportunities due to poor decision making. Thankfully however he has began to string together a good level of activity, and this will be his third bout in 10 months, following wins over Muhammad Waseem and Masahiro Sakamoto. Also, despite being 36, he is a rather fresh 36 year old, and doesn't appear to be showing much in terms of wear and tear.
Kuroda, himself a 32 year old, is much less well known that Mthalane but is a battled hardened veteran himself with a 14 year career and plenty of experience. He's had one previous world title fight, losing to Juan Carlos Reveco in a WBA title fight back in 2013, but is a 2-weight Japanese national champion, having held the Light Flyweight and Flyweight title. At national level he has scored numerous notable wins, including victories over Katsuhiko Iezumi, Shin Ono and Takuya Kogawa, whilst also fighting to a draw with Ryoichi Taguchi, though he has never really scored a win above domestic level.
Kuroda has proven to be a gruelling warrior in the ring. He does tend to start fights like he's a technical fighter, but always seems to get dragged into a war, ignoring his technical ability and fighting a brawl instead. He's technically solid, when he sticks to his boxing, but has somewhat questionable composure, and seems to be happy to take one to land one whilst fighting on the inside. He's usually in pretty entertaining fights, but has been dropped numerous times during his career, and he's not got the power or speed to really fight with the style he has, at world level.
Although we suspect Mthalane will lose to someone he should beat, due to his age, we don't see that loss coming here. Kuroda has a style that should make life easy for Mthalane, coming forward and trying to fight on the inside. Kuroda will likely have more success than Masahiro Sakamoto did, before he was stopped by Mthalane, but he'll likely face the same sort of beating Sakamoto had, with Mthalane's clean, hard, accurate punching and tight defense being too much for him.
Prediction - TKO9 Mthalane.
Over the last few years the Super Flyweight division has been a must watch one. It's provided some amazing fights, such as the Srisaket Sor Rungvisai bouts against Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada and the compelling bouts between Donnie Nietes and Aston Palicte, and Nietes against Kazuto Ioka. Whilst it has delivered some brilliant bouts two champions have been criticised for lacklustre competition and match ups. One of those is WBA champion Kal Yafai and the other IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-2, 20), from the Philippines.
Ancajas, who won his title back in September 2016, has scored 6 defenses of his title, fighting in 3 continents, but his last few defenses have failed to excite fans, some of whom have accused him of ducking real challenges, and avoiding the likes of Naoya Inoue. This weekend we'll see the Filipino seek his next defense, as he takes on mandatory challenger Ryuichi Funai (31-7, 22), from Japan. For Funai this will be his first world title bout, whilst Ancajas will be facing his second Japanese challenger, following a 2017 win over Teiru Kinoshita, himself a mandatory challenger to Ancajas' throne.
When Ancajas first won his title, ripping it from the hands of McJoe Arroyo, he was a real unknown. The bout had an incredibly low purse and no TV backing at all. He quickly became one to watch and his performance against Kinoshita, on the under-card of Manny Pacquiao's bout with Jeff Horn, really did impress with Ancajas looking like an exciting, talented, smooth boxer puncher. The start of his reign did show some excitement and he did look like he had the tools to be a star, but a dull win over Israel Gonzalez and a stinking fight with Jonas Sultan took shine off his reign and a draw against Alejandro Santiago Barrios showed real flaws with his boxing, and it seemed like the short Barrios deserved the win.
At his best Ancajas is a gorgeous boxer to watch. Everything he does seems smooth, he gets in and out with ease and looks really easy on the eye. Despite the fact his nickname isn't based on his style, he does live up to the "Pretty Boy" moniker when boxing, and mixes smart defenses with good, clean punching. Sadly though it's been a while since we saw him at his best, and in recent bouts it's seemed like something is missing, potentially an issues caused by a struggle to make weight or by over-looking opponents. If he gets back to his best he should have no issues here, and he really is a top Super Flyweight, but another less than great performance could see him being dethroned.
Whilst Ancajas is well known, the came can't be said for Funai, who has never fought outside of Japan and has rarely even fought outside of Korakuen Hall, where he has fought 34 of his 38 bouts. Despite that he is well regarded in Japan and has mixed with some very good company, losing to the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka, Rolly Lunas and Sho Ishida, who between them make up 3 of Funai's 4 losses in the last 11 years. Having started his career 6-3 it's impressive to note that he has since gone 25-4 (19), whilst becoming a very solid fighter at Super Flyweight, which suits him more than Bantamweight where he fought much of his early career.
Although not a huge name Funai is a solid puncher, with his straight right hand being a very potent punch on the Japanese domestic scene, helping him stop 6 of his last 7 including Victor Emanuel Olivo, Warlito Parrenas and Shota Kawaguchi. Whilst his right hand is vicious it should be noted that he's not a busy fighter in the ring, he's not particularly quick and, especially against Olivo back in November, he's rather stationary on his feet. He's a smart counter puncher, but is certainly taking a huge step up in class here.
Ancajas was caught repeatedly by Barrios last time out, and whilst Barrios is certainly a trickier fighter than Funai that bout will have left Funai feeling confident. If Funai can land his right hand clean he certainly has the power to hurt Ancajas. That is a big if however. We're expecting to see a sharper Ancajas than we saw last time out, and if he stays switched on, uses his footwork well and tags the slower, clumsier Funai, on a regular basis, this should end up being a pretty clear win for the Filipino, but there is always a risk of him eating a big, Funai, right hand.
Prediction TKO10 Ancajas.
It's taken less than 3 weeks for boxing to throw us the first curve ball of the year, with the announcement of an IBF Super Bantamweight title bout pitting unbeaten champion TJ Doheny (20-0, 14) against little known Japanese challenger Ryohei Takahashi (15-3-1, 6) [高橋竜平] on January 18th. The bout was put together on short notice, with Takahashi's team struggling to get him a visa on short notice for a bout he simply couldn't turn down. As we write this, it's still unclear if a visa has been granted, things are being cut that fine!
So, let's just accept a visa has been given and that the bout is on, lets now look into the bout, and what we're going to be seeing for Doheny's DAZN debut, and his first bout under Eddie Hearn.
The unbeaten 32 year old champion won the title last year, travelling to Tokyo and dethroning Ryosuke Iwasa. That bout, shown in Japan and the US, was supposed to set the winner up for a bout with the then WBO champion Isaac Dogboe. Instead of facing Dogboe in a unification bout the Australian based Irish man saw had to recover from serious facial injuries and in December Dogboe was himself dethroned. That seemed to leave Doheny with plenty of options on the table, including potential Japanese returns for some of their big names like Shingo Wake. Instead, however, he signed with Eddie Hearn, and that deal was announced on January 8th with his first bout under Hearn announced for just 10 days later.
Dubbed "The Power" Doheny is actually not an out and out puncher. He can bang, and he certainly does have power, but as he showed against Iwasa he's a talented mover, a sharp puncher, an intelligent fighter and not someone who look to just bang with a banger. He made Iwasa look slow and clumsy by stopping "Eagle Eye" from setting his feet, and for the most part out worked and out manoeuvered the Japanese fighter. Other than the win over Iwasa Doheny's record is a bit thin, with his best wins coming against the likes of Mike Oliver, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Marco Demecillo and Mike Tawatchai. That however isn't a sign that he's a bad fighter, just one who hasn't been able to really prove what he can do, often enough.
As mentioned Takahashi is a little known fighter, and if you don't follow the Asian or Oceanic scene you almost certainly won't have seen him at all. Almost all of his bouts have been in his native Japan, and most haven't been televised. His early career wasn't great, losing his debut in 96 seconds to Shogo Sumitomo in December 2012, before fighting to a draw with Matcha Nakagawa in his second bout. It wasn't until January 2014 that he scored his first win, but he really came of age during that year and went on to win the All Japan Bantamweight Rookie of the Year whilst advancing his record to 5-1-1. In 2015 he notched 3 more wins before leaving Japan for the first time and losing a wide decision to a then 5-0 Andrew Moloney, then a prospect but now a leading Super Flyweight contender. Since that loss Takahashi has gone 8-1 with notable domestic wins over Matcha Nakagawa, Kazuki Tanaka and Shingo Kusano as well as a big win over Thailand's Mike Tawatchai in Thailand.
Takahashi is an aggressive fighter, he looks to set a high work rate and fights like someone who is confident in himself. That confidence has grown in the last few years, really booming since he stopped the then touted Kazuki Tanaka back in May 2017, with what was sheer determination and pressure. That was a tactic he used well against Mike Tawatchai as well, to take a clear decision in Thailand. Sadly however Takahashi is defensively open, and in his bout against Shingo Kusano he was being caught bu southpaw left hands time and time again, looking like he really wasn't sure how to fight a southpaw, though had the energy and desire to take the narrow decision. That is the bout that should worry those picking the upset. Even against orthodox fighter Takahashi's defense doesn't look the best, but against southpaws he really is open.
Although we would suggest Doheny would win anyway Takahashi also to issues with his visa, the late notice and the time zone change. Any one of those issues would be a problem, but all 2 really do show the card is stacked against him, we don't blame Doheny for that but do wonder if Eddie Hearn has had problems putting together an attractive card due to over stretching his resources and time. He's got a lot on his plate right now and giving fighters like Takahashi the opportunity of a life time on short notice might work, but it's a reputation he won't want to build.
As a prediction we suspect Doheny's speed, power and southpaw stance will pick apart a game challenger and Takahashi, whilst brave, will be stopped in the middle rounds by the champion, who is looking to unify with WBA champion Daniel Roman later in the year.
(Image courtesy of Yokohama Hikari)
The Light Flyweight division has long been one of the best in the sport and it's really red hot with so much world class talent. To end the year we get the chance to see two truly world class fighters face off in a mouth watering clash in Macau. In one corner we'll have WBA "super" champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10) and in the other we'll have former IBF Minmumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8). Stylistcally the two men are massively different but together they should gel for a FOTY contender and make for something very special.
South African fighter Budler is a grizzled veteran, who is 30 years old and turned professional way back in 2007. His career was over-looked early on by the international boxing world despite early career fights in Canada and the USA, but he would impress in later years when he won the WBA Minimumweight title. As the champion at 105lbs Budler would go on to shine in bouts held in Monaco, raising his profile dramatically, before boosting his reputation at home with a win over Simpiwe Koncko. Sadly his reign ended in 2016, losing to Byron Rojas, before he moved up in weight. At Light Flyweight he has gone 3-1, losing in a nail biter in 2017 to Milan Melindo before beating Ryoichi Taguchi this past May in another brilliant 12 round bout.
Budler is technically a flawed fighter but he has an amazing engine, fighting at a high tempo through 12 rounds, he throws from unorthodox angles, and refuses to back off. Although not powerful his work rate is a nightmare and he's very hard to get respect from, even if he's not iron chinned. In fact if we were to sum him up it would be "iron willed buzzsaw", and we genuinely love watching him.
Unbeaten Japanese fighter Kyoguchi was put on the fast lane when he debuted in 2016 and he raced away to his first world title just 15 months after making his professional debut. After 2 defenses of the IBF Minimumweight title he decided to move up in weight, and now campaigns at Light Flyweight, which should suit his growing body better than the 105lbs weight class. At Minimumweight he was an aggressive bully, who used his physicality and his heavy hands to great effect, and combined those with under-rated speed and brilliant combination punching, especially on the inside.
Interestingly Kyoguchi is stablemates with Ryoichi Taguchi, the man that Budler beat for the WBA "Super" Light Flyweight title. That bout will serve as an advantage for Kyoguchi, who will have been given a scouting report from his Watanabe Gym stablemate, who will be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Budler. What we've seen of both men makes us expect something really exciting and action packed, and Kyoguchi really holds the advantage on the inside, with very under-rated body punching, especially his left hook to the mid-section. We suspect that punch will be the key, and that he'll find a home for it early on, and rely on it to slow down and break up the South African.
Budler has never been stopped before, he is a top fighter at 108lbs and he is tough. We do however think that Kyoguchi is a special fighter, in a similar mould to Roman Gonzalez, and will move through the weights with relative ease whilst getting stronger. We suspect that Budler start well here before being broken down and maybe even stopped in the later rounds as Kyoguchi announces himself on a new division in style.
In 2018 we've seen the Flyweight division go through some huge changes, and not a single fighter who began the year a world champion is actually still a champion. In fact the longest reigning champion in the division is Artem Dalakian, and his WBA reign only began in February. To end the year the division may have one more sting in the tail, as IBF champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) makes his first defense, of his second reign, and goes up against unheralded Japanese challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9).
The champion is a true veteran of the sport. He turned professional in 2000, as an 18 year old, and got his first big break in 2008, winning an IBF eliminator. Unfortunately he would come up short in his first world title fight, losing by TKO due to cute to Nonito Donaire in Las Vegas, but gave Donaire one of his toughest bouts at the time. Despite losing to Donaire we did see Mthalane claim the title a year later, beating Julio Cesar Miranda for the vacant title. As the champion he would make 4 defenses over 3 years, stopping Zolani Tete, Johnriel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though politics would play a part in hins reign, not only leading to inactivity but also eventually leading to Mthalane vacating, rather than facing Amnat Ruenroeng for a very paltry purse.
Despite vacating the belt Mthalane remained a leading Flyweight contender, and would get a chance to recapture the belt this past July, a chance he made the most of by beating Korean based Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem by unanimous decision in Malaysia.
At the age of 36 is ancient for a Flyweight, and with 38 bouts on his record is certainly a fighter who has had a hard career. He has real wars with the likes of Donaire, Nunez, Waseem and Jether Oliva, who gave Mthalane a horribly swollen eye. Despite being old Mthalane is a technical master in the ring, with an excellent boxing IQ, an aggressive style, which can be either that of a pressure fighter or an aggressive counter puncher, and he is a surprisingly quick an powerful fighter. Defensively he's sound, though there are some question marks about his stamina, and he was running on empty in the later rounds against Waseem.
Whilst the champion has long been under-the-radar, hard core fans have known about him for around a decade. The challenger on the other hand is a real unknown for those who don't follow the Asian scene, and more specifically the Japanese scene. He made his first mark on the sport in 2015, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Flyweight and would lose his first title bout the following year, losing in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout to future world champion Sho Kimura. Thankfully for Sakamoto he would win that regional title the following year, stopping Kwanthai Sithmorseng, and defend it once, stopping Pigmy Kokietgym. Sadly those are the only 2 wins of major note on his record, and his loss to Kimura came at a time when no one really knew who Kimura was, and was the win that put Kimura on the road for his break out win against Zou Shiming in 2017.
Although Sakamoto hasn't had much TV exposure, aside from his Rookie of the Year stuff, he has got plenty of footage out there on boxingraise. That footage shows a smart fighter, a fighter who thinks about what he's doing, and boxing with his brain. Sadly though it shows a fighter with not exceptional natural talent. He's a a good, steady, boxer, but not a quick one or a monstrous puncher. He's a fighter who appears to have been more about hard work, dedication and gradual development, something that was clear between the loss to Kimura and his wins against the notable Thai's.
With a loss to Kimura it's fair to say that Sakamoto has lost the biggest bout of his career. This bout is bigger though and he will be the clear under-dog. He's up against the most technically proficient fighter he has ever faced, and a man who has a wealth of experience at world level. Sakamoto's team have been developing a game plan for Mthalane for a while, and it's almost certainly one based around making the most of Mthalane's advanced age. Sadly though the Japanese fighter is likely to find himself up against it here.
We would love to see Sakamoto win, and the potential rematch with Kimura or a unification bout with Kosei Tanaka, though the truth is that he is the huge under-dog here. We suspect his lack of experience at this level will be a major problem. We suspect Sakamoto will have moments, but sadly will come up short to the pressure and accuracy of the very talented champion.
The Minimumweight division has been an interesting one recently, which has been given more attention than usual due to Thailand's Wanheng Menayothin reaching 51-0 and breaking the 50-0 record of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Despite the increase in attention it's had, that attention really hasn't been spread across the whole division, and that's a shame given that the division is actually really interesting at the moment. Not only do you have Wanheng with a world title but also the incredibly exciting Vic Saludar and, at the time of writing, the brilliantly named Knockout CP Freshmart. The division also has rising contenders and Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi who are both exciting, heavy handed and talented fighters who will find themselves in the mix for years to come.
Another fighter who is expected to be in mix for the coming years is Filipino maestro Mark Anthony Barriga (9-0, 1), who looks to become the IBF champion this coming Saturday, as he takes on fellow unbeaten and Carlos Licona (13-0, 2) for the vacant title.
The title was vacated earlier this year by Hiroto Kyoguchi, who decided to move up in weight. Prior to vacating Barriga had earned the mandatory position for a title shot, with Licona being ordered by the IBF to be the co-challenger for the vacant title. After several weeks of talks it ended up on this weekend's big card from the US, giving both fighters the chance to capitalise on a big show.
For those that haven't seen Barriga he has regularly been compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr. He is one of the most naturally skilled fighters in the sport, with amazing movement, timing and ring craft. He understands distance like very few fighters in the sport and can make good fighters look like rank novices just from his understanding of the ring. His one flaw is that he lacks power, he really is one of the lightest punchers in the sport, but he's a very crisp puncher, who's accurate, sharp and clean with his work.
The Filipino has only been a professional since July 2016 but has already impressed, with particularly notable wins against former world title challengers Samartlek Kokietgym and Gabriel Mendoza, barely losing a round in those bouts combined.
The 23 Mexican born American Licona made his debut in December 2014 and has fought in Mexico, the US and Puerto Rico. Though his career his most notable opponent has been former world title challenger Janiel Rivera, and that's really his only win against an opponent of any name value.
Sadly there is very little footage of Licona, so it's hard to know much about his style, though given his record, and his lack of stoppages, we can assume he's not a puncher. His only stoppages so far both came in his first 4 bouts and since then he's not found anything closing in a stoppage. That's not to say not hitting hard will be an issue here, but it's one thing would help when fighting Barriga. What we expect to see is Licona to be another talented, slick boxer.
We could rave about how good we thing Barriga is, but the reality that we don't think we'll need to. Instead we think Barriga will shine here and will turn heads with a mature, skilled and excellent performance of boxing. We suspect it'll be a performance that will please the purists, rather than the fans looking for excitement, but we're pretty confident that Barriga will put on an exhibition against Licona and come out on top.
We know that's a risky prediction, given how little we've managed to see of Licona, but we're confident that Barriga really is that good, and is the most technically skilled fighter at 105lbs, by quite some margin.
One of the best divisions in the sport right now is the Light Flyweight division, which is stacked with talent, has been matching the top fighters against each other consistently and it has such a varied array of styles that there really is something there for everyone.
This coming Monday fight fans in the Philippines get another great bout between top divisional fighters as local hopeful Randy Petalcorin (29-2-1, 22) finally gets a world title fight. Sadly for Petalcorin he will be going up against one of the division's most feared fighters, Nicaraguan puncher Felix Alvarado (33-2, 29), in a bout for the vacant IBF title.
The Filipino is a 26 year old southpaw who has been around the professional scene for close to a decade. His career has promised a lot, but the reality is that he's yet to score a really big win and live up to the expectation that many in the Philippines have had for him.
Petalcorin would scored 5 straight stoppage wins to begin his career before coming up short against a then unknown Marlon Tapales, who would later go on to claim the WBO Bantamweight title. He would rebuild from that loss by advancing his record from 5-1 to 23-1-1 (18) before a controversial loss to Omari Kimweri in Australia in 2016. Sadly the 19 fight unbeaten run between those two losses lacked in terms of notable wins, with perhaps the best of them being over Walter Tello, Ma Yiming and Samartlek Kokietgym.
Since losing to Kimweri Petalcorin has bounced back with 6 straight wins coming into this bout.
In the ring Petalcorin is a razor sharp boxer-puncher. He's shown those skills through his career and few will question his smoothness in the ring. He can switch from head to body with ease, can counter punch excellently and he looks amazing when he's facing over-matched foes, as we saw when he travelled to China and demolished Yiming with smooth combinations and brilliant clean punching. Sadly though there is a feeling that Petalcorin looking great against lower tier fighters says more about his competition than about him.
If Petalcorin can step up here and perform as good as he has against lesser men then he has a genuine chance, but this is a big step up for him.
Nicaraguan fighter Alvarado has been a professional since 2010 and the 29 year old has built himself a reputation as a man to fear. He would begin his career by running up 18 straight wins, 15 by stoppage, whilst fighting mostly on the Nicaraguan domestic scene. In 2013 he would step up massively and face Kazuto Ioka for the WBA Light Flyweight title, though came up short against the Japanese fighter. The following year Alvarado would suffer his second loss, losing in a competitive bout against Juan Carlos Reveco. Since those losses Alvarado has been on a tear going 15-0 (14). This time his run hasn't just come against domestic level opponents but also fringe contenders, such as Yader Cardoza, Jose Antonio Jimenez and most notable Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr.
As a fighter Alvarado can be out boxed, he out manoeuvred, out sped and out thought. However he's a massive puncher, an all out monster on the front foot and he seems to have a solid engine with a very gritty and determined toughness. He can be his, though has under-rated defense, and boy can he punch himself. He's crude, a little clumsy, a bit open and pretty technically limited, but he is such a dangerous fighter that few will take risks against him, especially given that his power is potent to both head and body.
We believe that if Petalcorin can box to his best, for 12 rounds, uses his legs and jab and never trades with the Nicaraguan, he can take a decision here, especially with the home advantage. It is however a massive ask and Alvarado will be after him from the first bell, and will be looking to break down the Filipino. Sadly for Petalcorin we suspect the power, toughness and drive of Alvarado will be too much in the end.
No matter who wins here we're assured of some great bouts down the line, with the division being so packed with talent that the winner will struggle to find an easy defense any time soon.
The Super Flyweight division is red hot right now with so many notable names, fantastic fighters and potentially brilliant match ups. The recent edition of “Superfly” may have been under-whelming but the division is red hot and the recent wins for both Kazuto Ioka and Roman Gonzalez have opened up the division even further. Sadly however there are several fighters who are competing with no intention of fighting on the “Superfly” cards. One of those is IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-1, 20), who is signed up with Top Rank and being kept as a divisional side attraction by Bob Arum, who has kept him fighting on ESPN and kept him away from the top names at 115lbs.
This coming Friday Ancajas returned to the ring, to make his 6th defense of the title, and takes on a real divisional no-name in the form of Alejandro Santiago Barrios (16-2-4, 7). A 22 year old Mexican without a win of note and draws in his 3 most notable bouts. Not only is he a pretty unknown challenger but he is one without any experience over 12 rounds and has done next to nothing to deserve a title fight, at this moment in time.
The 26 year old champion might not be competing with the best in the division but he is one of the divisions top fighters, which is why his reign is so disappointing. He won the title back in September 2016, defeating the then unbeaten McJoe Arroyo, and has showed his silky skills whilst stopping the likes of Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Teiru Kinoshita and Jamie Conlan. Most recently he scored a decision win over mandatory challenger Jonas Sultan but failed to take the opportunity to shine, in the first All-Filipino world title bout in over 90 years.
Whilst his reign has been somewhat forgettable Ancajas has gone from a relative unknown outside of the Filipino domestic scene to someone who is regarded a top Super Flyweight and has been fighting on major TV over the few few fights. His win over Teiru Kinoshita put him on the map for many and since then his profile has grown well, which has doubled the frustration of fans. He's is one of the most aesthetically pleasing fighters in the sport, with very sharp shots, wonderful movement and electric combinations, but it often looks like he's facing opponents several levels blow himself. Those skills feel like they deserve to be tested against the very best in the division, guys like Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada and even Kal Yafai, another of the divisional outliers.
Santiago picked up boxing as a teenager and early in his career he rolled off an 8 fight unbeaten run against fellow novice Mexicans. His first step up in class saw him face the then 5-0-1 Hector Gabriel Flores, and lose a clear 6 round decision. His second loss would come just a couple of fights later, and since then he has gone on a role of sorts, running up an 11 fight unbeaten run. Sadly though that run has seen him score 8 wins over limited foes in Mexico and fight to 3 draws against somewhat notable names, all on the road. By it's self that sounds like he's been unfortunate but those draws have come against Antonio Nieves, who was toyed with by Naoya Inoue, and Jose Martinez, who's most notable victory has come against the under-sized and well past his best Juan Palacios.
Footage of Santiago shows him to be a pretty quick and crafty fighter. He uses half steps on the way out to create space to get his jab off and does move surprisingly well. Sadly on the front foot he does look like he carries very little power and doesn't really sit on his shots. Also he looks worryingly under-sized as well as under-powered. We'll be honest and say he probably should have had a win over Martinez, who he made look slow, sloppy and crude, but that shouldn't be enough to get him a world title fight at this level. He looks better than we'd expect, but no where near good enough to face off with the likes of Ancajas.
We're expecting to see Ancajas take the fight to Santiago, using his superior size, speed and skills to chip away at the Mexican and score a late stoppage. Santiago is stepping up massively and he's shown nothing to suggest he can hold his own at this level against someone as sharp and as accurate as Ancajas. Sadly Ancasjas has a reputation for dragging out his bouts, not putting his foot toe gad until his man has been broken mentally. That means we're expecting this to go in the later rounds before Ancajas ups the pace and looks to finish the show, rather than look to make a statement as early as he can.
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.