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.
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 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.
It's fair to say that 2017 has been an amazing year for boxing fans, who have had so many great fights that year has over-delivered in many ways. There has been dodgy decisions, farcical contests and all the negatives we associate with the sport, but also a lot of amazing fights. We get some more of those on December 31st with the pick of the bunch being a Light Flyweight unification bout between WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi (26-2-2, 12) and IBF champion Milan Melindo (37-2, 13). The bout could well shake up Fighter of the Year category and will almost certainly see us with a unified champion at 108lbs, a division which many have been sleeping on in recent years.
Of the two men it's Taguchi who is the more distinguished champion. The 31 year old from the Watanabe gym has held the WBA title since the end of 2014, beating Alberto Rossel for the belt on December 31st. Since then he has racked up 6 defenses, though shown real inconsistencies during his reign. He has dominated the likes of Kwanthai Sithmorseng, Juan Jose Landaeta and Ryo Miyazaki, struggled past Luis De La Rose and Carlos Canizales and looked beatable in both of those fights, whilst impressing earlier this year when he stopped Robert Barrera.
Although a bit of an enigma no one can argue with Taguchi's ability. When he's got his head on and is in the right mood he's an absolute night mare to fight with a very high output, freakish physical stature for a Light Flyweight, standing at over 5'5”, a solid toughness and a real air of confidence. He's not the most skilled but with his long reach, durability and work rate he's going to be a handful for anyone, and even gave Naoya Inoue his toughest bout to date, taking several rounds from the “Monster” back in 2013.
Filipino fighter Melindo only won his title this past May, in his third world title fight, but is arguably one of the top contenders for Fighter of the Year in 2017, with a win over Taguchi possibly earning him the award. He won the title in Japan, when he stopped Akira Yaegashi in 165 seconds, a divisional record, and made his first defense in September when he defeated top South African Hekkie Budler in a 2017 Fight of the Year candidate. Prior to those two wins Melindo was a bit of a nearly man, having put up good efforts in losses to Juan Francisco Estrada and Javier Mendoza and having scored notable wins over Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Saul Juarez, Martin Tecuapetla, Carlos Tamara and Muammad Rachman. His resume was on par that of a world champion, but without a win in a big one.
Having gotten his “big win” and a world title the question now is whether Melindo can continue to build on his success. From a technical stand point Melindo is arguably the best fighter at 108lbs. He's got a very, very high ring IQ, is a brilliant counter puncher and understands the ring fantastically. He gauges distances really well, has great timing and knows how to control the distance. From a fight fan perspective he's a real thinking man's fighter, but sadly that comes at a cost and he can be out worked, he can seem lazy and can be swarmed, though he does hit harder than his record suggests and one of his counters can turn the bout on it's head.
This bout really does look like it will be an intriguing clash of styles. It has Taguchi's high work rate, and relative defensive openness against Melindo's low work rate but accurate and smooth counter punching. It will pit two world class fighters against each other and will, potentially, see one walk out as a unified WBA/IBF champion, and the man to beat in the division.
With home advantage we do favour Taguchi, who with a win would spoil Melindo's year, but a win for Melindo is certainly not out of the question. Either man can win, and it is a true 50-50 bout, with a feeling of being something very, very special to close out the year.
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.
With so many world title bouts this coming weekend it's easy to over look some of them, and perhaps that's the case with an incredibly good bout set to take place on Sunday at the Ariake Colosseum. That bout is the IBF Light Flyweight world title unification bout between “regular” champion Akira Yaegashi (25-5, 13) and “interim” champion Milan Melindo (35-2, 12). The two men are proven to be world class fighters and have styles that could make for either a tactical chessmatch or an exciting high skilled war.
Of the two fighters Yaegashi is the more accomplished. He's a 3-weight champion, having won titles at Minimumweight and Flyweight before claiming a Light Flyweight title at the end of 2015. Although his record is marked up he's a true world class fighter who has only lost in a single non-world title bout, way back in 2008 against Masatate Tsuji. Not only is he world class but he's also a hardcore fight fan's favourite having faced a who's who of the lower weights over the last decade, and nearly always putting on a show.
Although a talented boxer Yaegashi has gained a serious reputation as a fighter. He's been in so many wars that a career highlight set has to be made available after his retirement, and he's shown insane courage through his fights, regularly fighting with a swollen and disfigured face. Due to those wars he has become a fighter with an international following, and fans will all remember his bouts against the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Kazuto Ioka, Toshiyuki Igarashi, Roman Gonzalez, Javier Mendoza and Jose Martin Tecaupetla. Those bouts, and others, have been great wars and have helped Yaegashi to become more than just another Japanese world champion, they've made him one of the highlights of the lower weights.
The 29 year old Melindo is one of the lower weights technical fighters. He's known as “El Metodico” due to his boxing brain and methodical approach in the ring and has proven to be a genuine world class talent. During his career he has scored numerous notable wins, including victories over Muhammad Rachman,Carlos Tamara, Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Saul Juarez, Jose Martin Tecuapetla and most recently Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, to claim the interim title. He's lost twice to talented fighters, coming up short against Juan Francisco Estrada and Javier Mendoa, with that loss being a relatively controversial one.
As mentioned Melindo is methodical. He's not exciting, he's not a puncher, but he's technically very well schooled, very accurate and for skilled. His style lacks the energy of some of his fellow fighters, and it's fair to say he lacks world class speed or power, but in terms of pure skills, he is a genuine talent.
If Melindo can control the bout, and make it a boxing contest, he was a great chance of putting Yaegashi off his plan, and making the bout a less than thrilling affair, taking the crowd away and claiming the win. The reality however is that even at 34 Yaegashi is still quick and still comes to fight, and is still a top fighter. He'll look to make it a fight and we expect he'll manage to make the fight a war, and come out on top.
The fight will likely have a bit of everything, action, skills and drama, but we think Yaegashi will do more than enough to take home the win here.
When it comes to popular Japanese fighters with an international fan base based more on their style than their records no one matches the all-action Akira Yaegashi (24-5, 12), who could put on a FOTY contender with a broom. Though his memorable career he has has thrillers with the likes of Kenichi Horikawa, Pornasawn Porpramook, Kazuto Ioka, Toshiyuki Igarashi, Roman Gonzalez, Javier Mendoza and Martin Tecuapetla. It's hard to think of many bad fights with Yaegashi and we're expecting another really fun one this coming Friday when he takes on Samartlek Kokietgym (33-5, 12)*, who will be taking part in his second world title fight.
Yaegashi, the current IBF Light Flyweight champion, isn't just one of Japan's most exciting fighters but is one of the sports most exciting fighters. He combines an incredible will to win, which has been a downfall in the past, with an aggressive action based style, and an incredible work rate and desire. That desire saw him break down Pornsawan in a FOTY contender, and see out some torrid rounds against Tecuapetla as well as put on a FOTY candidate with Mendoza.
Yaegashi is one of the few Japanese fighters to be a genuine 3-weight champion. He has won titles at 105lbs, 112lbs and 108lbs and it's that 108lb weight class that he seems most suited to. Sadly however he is closing in on his 34th birthday and his time at the top looks unlikely to last long, especially given how long and hard his career has been. He already has 222 rounds under his belt and although he's only fought 29 bouts he has had 17 at title level, and 11 at world title level, with those bouts often being draining wars.
Although a warrior, through and through, Yaegashi can box and has shown that through his career, sadly though his warrior mentality has kicked in more often than not, meaning that even the most simple of bouts have been wars. That has sadly left him suffering multiple injuries, from bad facial damage to a broken Temporomandibular Joint and a serious shoulder injury, that has kept him out of the ring most of this year. Those injuries, and damage, have accumulated and will almost certainly affect him going forward.
Although relatively unknown Samartlek is a fighter on a role, and a fighter who has proven his toughness in the past, along with proving he can travel and can fight, a bit. He's best known for lasting 11 rounds in 2014 with Yaegashi's stablemate Naoya Inoue but has been a success in Thailand where he has been racking up a long string of wins since losing the “The Monster”.
The 32 year old challenger was originally a Muay Thai kick boxer before turning to boxing back in 2010. In a little over 6 years he has racked up either a 31-5 (12) record or a 33-5 record, depending on the source. That record has included losses to Inthanon Sithchamuang, Denver Cuello, Yuki Chinen, Randy Petalcorin and Inoue along with wins against the likes of Inthanon and Muhammad Rachman,
At his best Samartlek has proven to be a tough and gutsy fighter, he pushed Chinen close, bounced off the canvas multiple times against Petalcorin and lasted until round 11 with Inoue. He has also shown signs of improvement and has won his last 14 bouts, 14 fought since losing to Inoue a little more than 2 years ago. The improvement is thought to be more than he has shown with work alongside Kompayak Porpramook said to have improved his body work and made him a more rounded fighter.
Wither neither man having huge amounts of power, and both being aggressively minded guys who let leather go we're expecting something a bit special here with both letting their shots go. We have to favour Yaegashi, who has the experience and proven class, but we're expecting a very special action bout here with both men standing and trading blows. Yaegashi will likely look swollen and damaged but we genuinely expect him to be the clear winner on the cards.
The lower weight classes have given us regular thrillers in recent years with so many good fighters and so many action packed contests. Given the amount of talent in the lower weight classes, and the mix of styles we do seem to get some fantastic bouts every time we throw together any of the top 15 or so fighters in any of the lower weight classes. That's likely to be the case again this coming Saturday when Filipino Milan Melindo (34-2, 12) battles Thai Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (31-4-1, 16) for the IBF “interim” Light Flyweight title in Cebu City.
Whilst the winner won't be a world champion, instead they will have to face Akira Yaegashi in the imminent future, the bout should still be a thriller between two world class fighters who should gel stylistically.
The favourite will be local star Melindo, who not only has home advantage but is also the older fighter with an 11 year career behind him. He is regarded as a brilliantly talented technician who lacks in size and strength but is amazingly well schooled and boxes brilliantly as a pure boxer, using great ring control and movement to out score opponents. He can be bullied, as we saw against Javier Mendoza last year, and he can be out boxed, as we saw in 2013 when he fought Juan Francisco Estrada, but not many fighters will have an easy time with him.
Whilst best known for his two losses, both on the road, Melindo has scored notable wins through his career beating the likes of Muhammad Rachman, Carlos Tamara, Francisco Rosas, Jean Piero Perez, Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Martin Tecuapetla and Saul Juarez. With a resume like that Melindo may be one of the most accomplished current fighters to not have won a world title during his career.
The 23 year old Fahlan will be the under-dog but that has never worried him in the past and in fact he often seems to excel in the under-dog role. That was most notable in 2013, when he shocked the boxing world by stopping Ryo Miyazaki in 3 rounds, and was seen again last year when he was controversially defeated by Katsunari Takayama, with Takayama very lucky to avoid a TKO loss. Those bouts, both in Japan, showed that Fahlan was tough, knew when to strike and was criminally over-looked with under-rated skills, and solid power, even if he's not a KO artist. He showed himself as a smart counter puncher. Although he has shown glimpses of real talent he has also shown flaws and was easily out boxed by Takuma Inoue in 2014 and struggled to a win against Lester Abutan last year.
Despite only being 23 Fahlan is a 6 year professional with 36 bouts under his belt and almost 190 rounds. He has a lot of promise and is likely to become a world champion before his career is over, following in the footsteps of his father a former IBF Minimumweight champion. Notably he is taller and rangier than Melindo and may look to use his size advantages to keep Melindo at bay, neutralise the Filipino's jab and take away his key strengths, whilst also slowly chipping away at the Filipino.
In Thailand this bout would see Fahlan likely being the favourite, with home advantage having been a key, in the Philippines Melindo is understandably the favourite. On paper Melindo is the more talented, the more skilled and the more proven fighter and that higher level of proven ability and home advantage will likely help him to the win. However Fahlan won't travel with out hunting a win and he will give Melindo hell from the first round to the last, whether the bout is a boxing contest or a fight. With Fahlan being a tough ask for anyone he will push Melindo all the way, but we do expect to see Melindo take a clear decision win here.
Japanese boxing is certainly going through some changes in recent times with a number of it's “senior” fighters suffering recent losses, and a further number announcing their retirement recently. One of the remaining stalwarts of the Japanese scene is current IBF Light Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi (23-5, 12) [八重樫 東], who looks to make the first of his title on May 8th, as he faces under-rated Mexican challenger Martin Tecuapetla (13-6-3, 10).
Aged 33 Yaegashi probably hasn't got left in his career, and given the wars he's been in it's a surprise he's still a world class fighter now. He's one of the few Japanese fighters to have won a world title in 3 weight classes, and he's not done it the easy way either. His first world title was won in 2011, when he out lasted Ponrsawan Porpramook in an incredible war, in 2013 he claimed the WBC Flyweight title, beating Linear champion Toshiyuki Igarashi, and last year he out pointed the heavy handed Javier Mendoza for the IBF Light Flyweight title.
Whilst Yaegashi always beaten reigning champions for the titles he's won, he's also faced a relative who's who of the lighter weights. Included in those opponents are Eagle Den Junlaphan, Edgar Sosa, Roman Gonzalez, Pedro Guevara and Kazuto Ioka, in what was a unification bout at Minimumweight back in 2012. That level of competition has seen Yaegashi become a fan favourite with the hardcore fight fans, whilst his style, which is an action based one that screams “warrior”, has seen him further endear himself to fans both nationally and internationally.
In the ring Yaegashi is often seen as a “hit and be hit” type of fighter. He has got under-rated defense, sharp speed and intelligent movement, but all to often those traits go out of the window as he instead looks to engage in an all our war, a battle of attrition and a high drama contest. It can be frustrating to see him ignore some of his boxing skills, but it's his willingness to have a fight that has made him so popular and we suspect has helped him remain a top fighter, despite suffering several high profile loses.
At 26 years old the challenger knows that time is on his side in regards to what he can achieve during his career, he will also know however that he is much younger than the champion and will be wanting to use that youth to his advantage here. Although less well known than the champion he has mixed with good quality opposition including Saul Juarez, Jose Argumedo, Oscar Blanquet, Milan Melindo and Gilberto Parra. He has typically lost at the higher levels, but he is certainly a very capable fighter and has shown signs of getting better as he's getting older.
In the ring Tecuapetla is a steady but aggressive fighter. Technically he's flawed, a little and a little open, but he comes forward, throws from unusual angles and really does take a lot to force him backwards. Whilst he is aggressive, and a solid puncher, he can be out boxed and a careful counter-puncher can give him fits as, possibly, could someone who gets in his face and can take his power.
In his highest profile bout to date the Mexican was narrowly out pointed by Milan Melindo. That was Tecuapetla's first bout outside of Mexico and whilst he did lose that bout he did give Melindo real issues and proved that he could box as well as fight and it was the boxing that actually gave the very talented Melindo troubles.
For Tecuapetla the bout is a step up, it's only his second bout away from home and it's his first at genuine world level. It's a really a leap up in class, however it's potentially a great opportunity for him to make a name for himself in front of an audience of several million fight fans. The reality however is that his open style is likely to give Yaegashi a lot of opportunities to counter him and as a result we suspect that Yaegashi will take a decision. The one risk for the Japanese warrior will be facial damage, and he will have to hope that his face doesn't suffer too much from his now trademark swelling. If he can avoid that, and more precisely avoid being stopped due to the swelling, he should retain his title with a decision in a very fun to watch contest.
The lower weights have been among the best in recent years with possibly the most exciting being Light Flyweight. The division has given us everything, despite the fighters being so small. We've had controversy, we've had riots, we've had FOTY contenders and we've had everything that fight fans claim they love about our great sport.
On December 29th we're expecting another war as IBF champion Javier Mendoza (24-2-1, 19) travels to Tokyo to battle the always fun to watch Akira Yaegashi (22-5, 12) in what looks like a potential FOTY candidate, albeit a very late contender.
Mendoza is the sort of fighter that fight fans tend to enjoy watching. His first thought always seems to be aggression, and his style is based on aggressive pressure. He can look predictable, and defensively awkward, but he is certainly a handful on the front foot where he likes to enforce his fight. It was that aggression that saw Mendoza claim the title last year, when he defeat Ramon Garcia Hirales in a brilliant 12 round war.
Since claiming the title Mendoza has defended his title once, claiming a technical decision Milan Melindo. That defense was somewhat controversial, with the referee seemingly bowing to the local fighter and calling a premature halt to proceedings, but it did get the mandatory out of the way for Mendoza who now looks to add another notable win to his record.
The Mexican has had an interesting career. Early on he was really just a brawler and that did get him some early success, however he was 13-2-1 (10) before going on his current 11 fight winning run. Notably the second of those losses, against the unknown Jorge Guerrero, saw him being stopped in 2 rounds in what is perhaps the most alarming result on his record. He has however improved significantly since those early losses and wins over Garcia Hirales and Melindo really do show how much he has improved and matured as a fighter, and at 24 he;s he's young, hungry and still developing.
Whilst Mendoza is just starting to make a name for himself it's fair to say that Yaegashi is one of the more popular names among the lower weight classes. He's become a hardcore fan favourite due to his heart, ability and willingness to go to war. In fact for many his 2011 war with Ponrsawan Porpramook was the FOTY and his 2012 bout with Kazuto Ioka was another thriller. Whilst he is known for wars he has also scored notable wins, including the victory over Pornsawan to claim the WBA Minimumweight title, a victory over Toshiyuki Igarashi, to claim the WBC Flyweight title, and a win over Edgar Sosa.
Sadly for Yaegashi his career has been a tough one and last year he suffered back to back stoppages against Roman Gonzalez and Pedro Guevara. Whilst there is not shame in losing to those two it did seem like he took a lot of punishment. It's also worth noting that he dropped to 108lbs for the Guevara bout, where's going to be again for this one. Dropping down a weight can often be much more difficult than climbing a weight and that may well be an issue for Yaegashi again here.
At his best Yaegashiu is speedy fighter who is light on his feet, has lovely hand speed and throws some brilliant combinations. He may lack power but he's rarely in a poor fight and has pulled out some brilliant KO's in recent years. Whilst he is a fast fighter he's not a defensively responsible one and seems much happier to engage in a brawl than to use his defense. Saying that however he did show very intelligent defensive moves against Sosa, where he moved and stopped Sosa from ever getting off.
Whilst Yaegashi was brilliant at his best he's not longer near his best. As mentioned he's going down in weight, often an issue, he's edging towards 33 and with 198 rounds under his belt he is an old fighter with a lot of hard rounds. Unfortunately we suspect those rounds will have taken their toll on him.
We'd love to see Yaegashi win here, but unfortunately we suspect he comes up short late in a thrilling bout. Mendoza will simply be too strong and too youthful in the second half for the ageing Japanese warrior.
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.