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.
The Minimumweight division is currently on that has a lot of potentially great match ups, and although much avoided by Western fans there is so much talented at 105lbs that the only people missing out are those who turn away from the lower weights. Among the most exciting fighters in the division is Japan's Hiroto Kyoguchi (9-0, 7), who is the current IBF champion having won the title in just his 8th bout after just 15 months as a professional fighter. This coming weekend Kyoguchi will return to the ring in his second defense, as he battles against fellow unbeaten puncher Vince Paras (13-0, 11), of the Philippines.
Kyoguchi's rise from debut to champion is the quickest in Japanese history, and one of the quickest of all time. He made his debut back in April 2016 and needed just 10 rounds to defeat his first 5 opponents, all before the end of 2016. In 2017 he stepped up, quickly winning the OPBF Minimumweight title, which he would defend once, before defeating the tough Jose Argumedo in July 2017 for the IBF title, which he defended in impressive fashion at the end of 2017, stopping Carlos Buitrago in 8 rounds.
In the ring Kyoguchi is an ultra-aggressive, hard hitting, pressure fight who is devastating with his body shots and combinations. He has got some defensively flaws, and has failed to make the most of his jab at times, but the reality is that his aggression is simply too unrelenting for most. Even those who have gone the distance with the Japanese terror, Jonathan Refugio and Jose Argumedo, have tried to avoid a tear up with Kyoguchi and gotten on their bike. Kyoguchi's flaws are visible, but are very hard to punish him for due to his freakish power, physical strength and brutal body shots.
Aged 19 Paras is looking to become one of the youngest Filipino world champions ever. He made his debut in July 2017, as a 16 year old and like Kyoguchi his power was obvious from his debut, which saw him stop Romeo Garde in 91 seconds. That power would help Paras to stop 9 of his first 10 opponents with only the tough Jimboy Haya managing to last more than 7 complete rounds with Paras. Despite his power Paras has shown some flaws, and has got a lot of questions to answer, given that he has been dropped and has yet to fight outside of the Philippines.
Footage of Paras isn't easy too easy to come by, but what is available shows a hard hitting but quite basic fighter. He is certainly dangerous but his footwork doesn't look the most natural, his movement isn't the quickest and despite being a pressure fighter he does look like he isn't the most aggressive or the quickest to close opponents down. In saying that however he does appear to have a tight guard and is certainly very dangerous early on, with 8 stoppages in the first 3 rounds.
Whilst we do see Paras as being a bit basic his power will keep Kyoguchi on his game defensively. Sadly for the challenger however this bout looks like it will have come too soon for him and he will find himself up against a similar, but more mature and more rounded, version of himself and Paras will be broken down in the middle rounds. Kyoguchi can't get reckless, but this is a massive step up in class for the challenger and one he is making before he is really ready. If we're being honest we're have preferred to have seen Paras in an OPBF title level fight before getting a world title fight, but can't blame the fighter or his team for taking the opportunity, even if he does come up short.
The first of three world title bouts on New Year's Eve this year will see IBF Minimumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (8-0, 6) [京口 紘人] defending his title against talented Nicaraguan Carlos Buitrago (30-2-1-1, 17). For Kyoguchi the bout will be his first defense whilst Buitrago will be looking to claim a world title fight, following a trio of previous set backs in Asia. The bout could, potentially, set the stage for a very interesting 2018 at Light Flyweight, with 3 titles being fought for on this show, and will certainly help move the division forward whilst also giving fans a very exciting stylistic match up.
The talented Kyoguchi was a former amateur stand out before making his debut in April 2016. By the end of the year he had raced out to 5-0 (5) and looked like a force to be reckoned with, thanks to his ultra aggressive pressure style, his heavy hands and his bob and weave style. That style took him to OPBF glory in February this year, when he stopped veteran Armando de la Cruz, and later helped him record his first defense, with a 12 round decision over Jonathan Refugio, who spent much of the bout in survival mode.
The win over Refugio did, to some extent, expose Kyoguchi as not being as destructive as he originally looked, but left no one questioning his stamina, aggression or ability to come on strong. Early on Refugio had had success, but had taken a lot during those early stages to stay away in the middle rounds and essentially do little more than survive late on, whilst Kyoguchi pressed forward. That defense was followed by another 12 round victory for Kyoguchi, who out pointed the teak tough Jose Argumedo in a relatively frustrating and sloppy affair, that saw neither man shine despite Kyoguchi claiming the IBF title with the win.
With a pair of 12 now under his belt the exciting man from the Watanabe gym now looks to get back to his destructive best and get his first defense as he takes on the talented visitor. To win he will need to show a much more disciplined performance than he did last time. He will need to be fully aware of the Nicaraguan's slippery skills, smart movement and ability to box at range. Kyoguchi will have to use the intelligent pressure that worked so well early in his career and unleash the devastating combinations and body shots that convinced his team to push him to a world title fight after just 15 months as a professional.
Aged 26 Buitrago has long been tipped as the the successor to Roman Gonzalez as the face of Nicaraguan boxing. He debuted aged 16, way back in 2008 and went 27-0-0-1 (16) before getting is first world title fight, in November 2013. During that run Buitrago had beaten the likes of Yader Escobar and Julian Yedras and had scored wins in Mexico and the US whilst developing a reputation as a special fighter in the gym. He was a fluid, gorgeous to watch boxer, with under rated power, smart movement and lovely hand speed with an excellent sharp jab and nice variety to his shots.
It was in November 2013 that Buitrago would get his first world title fight, and would fight to a draw in the Philippines against the then WBO champion Merlito Sabillo, with many feeling the Nicaraguan had been robbed of the win and the title. Despite the set back Buitrago remained a leading contender and just a fight later he took on Knockout CP Freshmart in a bout for the interim WBA Minimumweight title, losing a controversial decision to the Thai. A third shot would come just a couple of fights later, when he got a rematch with Knockout, and fought to a wide decision loss in a very lacklustre performance.
Since his second loss to Knockout we've not really seen anything from Buitrago to suggest he's a top fight any more. He scored a quick blow out over Roger Collado in May 2016 and an 8 round decision over Noe Medina back in October 2016, meaning he's been out of the ring for 14 months coming into this bout! It's also worth noting that his last recorded weight was 111¾lbs, well above the Minimumweight limit, and he has been rumoured to be struggling to get down to 105lbs for this bout.
At his best, if Buitrago can be at his best, he could be a real nightmare for Kyoguchi with his jab, movement, toughness and boxing brain. Sadly though all signs are that Buitrago isn't going to be at his best. He has been inactive, he's said to be struggling with weight and given his performance in the second bout with Knockout you have to wonder whether he has either outgrown the division or just isn't going to become the fighter we had all hoped. If Buitrago is anything short of his best Kyoguchi will likely steam roll him with pressure, combinations and body breaking shots to the midsection. If Buitrago is at his best then there is a chance he'll take the title back home with him, with a decision, but we're expecting to see an off Buitrago getting dragged into a war, and being broken down in the middle rounds by the vicious Kyoguchi.
It's fair to say that 2016 was a nightmare year for the Watanabe gym, with high profile losses for Kohei Kono and Takashi Uchiyama who both lost their world titles, however as a gym they have bounced back well in 2017. This coming Sunday they could see that bounce continue as they look to create their next world champion, and see their man set a new Japanese domestic record.
The man in question is ultra-destructive Miniumweight youngster Hiroto Kyoguchi (7-0, 6), who challenges IBF Minimumweight champion Jose Argumedo (20-3-1, 12). The bout comes just over 15 months since Kyoguchi made his debut, swatting away Nayoklek Sithsaithong in 2 rounds on April 17th 2016 and will also be Argumedo's 4th defense of his title.
Of the two men the more proven is the champion, a tough and trough 28 year old Mexican who has been a professional for almost 7 years and has fought a who's who. He's scored wins over Oswaldo Novoa, Saul Juarez, Jose Martin Tecuapetla, Javier Martinez Resendiz and, most notably of all, Katsunari Takayama. It was the win over Takayama that really brought him to people's attention, taking a 9th round technical over Takayama to claim the IBF title in a really rough fight that saw Argumedo's strength's, and weaknesses, being shown.
In the ring Argumedo is slow, he's clumsy, and a bit flat footed. He is however tough as old boots, physically imposing, strong and experienced. With 24 bouts under his belt, including a 4-0 (2) record in world title bouts he has shown his quality at world level and he's gone beyond 8 rounds in 12 bouts so far, racking up 147 career rounds.
It should be noted that the win over Takayama came in Japan and whilst we personally thought he was fortunate to get the decision, it was clear that he wasn't scared about fighting on foreign soil and instead he came to fight. It looked like he was out worked and out manoeuvred by Takayama, but the “Lightning Kid” could never dent the Mexican who looked like he could have taken shots for weeks without going down.
Whilst Argumedo is a proven quantity the same cannot be said of Kyoguchi, but in regards to the eye test he looks like a potential Japanese star of the future and the next Japanese standout at 105lbs, and we mean that with no disrespect to WBO champion Tatsuya Fukuhara.
Blessed with really spiteful power, an aggressive mentality and the ability to assess his own performances and take positives, and negatives from them, Kyoguchi seems like fighter who is naturally talented and blessed with real maturity. Style wise he looks similar to both Roman Gonalez and Daigo Higa, two of the most exciting fighters in the sport today. He applies intelligent pressure, looking to break the body and spirit of his opponents. At the moment he hasn't made the most of his jab, but has never really needed to, dominated many of his fights from early on.
Whilst KO artists always have questions over their heads Kyoguchi has already answered some of those. For example he has has proven he can go 12 rounds, and actually looked the fresher man when he went 12 against Jonathan Refugio back in April and shown that he's not worried when a fighter can take his power. Those two questions being answered already tell us a lot about Kyoguchi, and why he is so highly regarded. He's a puncher, but he can do 12, at a good pace and can revert to plan B if he needs to. Not only are we aware from what we've seen that he's a talent, but Watanabe gym have had him training with top tier talent for this fight, and have got experience of bringing fighters to the top, and won't have thrown him in here unless they were confident of him being ready.
This could be a case of throwing Kyoguchi in with a champion too early. We don't think Watanabe would have done that, but they might. What we're expecting instead is to see Kyoguchi really shine against a tough fighter that he will have a field day with, pressing the action and going to town on a champion who is essentially made to order for his speed, aggression and style. Kyoguchi can't get over-confident, and he can't rush his work, but he should be able to look a sensation here against a slow and clumsy fighter that he can pressure, and rip combinations on, at will.
We don't see Kyoguchi blowing away Argumedo early on, the Mexican is far too tough for that, but we do see him taking stoppage in the middle rounds as the body pile up and the Mexican unravels under the pressure.
With 5 world title fights on New Year's Eve we can understand why Japanese fight fans could be excited about the end of year shows. Sadly however a lot of those world title bouts are less than great. One such example is the IBF Minimumweight title bout between always exciting champion Katsunari Takayama (30-7-0-1, 12) and very limited Mexican challenger Jose Argumedo (15-3-1, 9).
The bout is a mismatch due to the limitations, and recent activity, of the challenger. Argumedo hasn't fought in over a year, and he's actually just 1-1 in the last 24 months with the win coming against the very poor Irving Requena. His most notable bouts have all been defeats, with 2 decision losses to Oswaldo Novoa and a loss last year to Carlos Velarde, and although he was very competitive in those defeats there is little to suggest he should be in a world title bout.
Whilst Argumedo does lack a world level win he does interesting hold some victories over gatekeepers. In 2013 he beat both Martin Tecuapetla and Javier Martinez Resendiz, though of course those wins were more than 2 years ago and neither Tecuapetla or Resendiz have shown themselves to be world class themselves.
Despite the issues with Argumedo getting this fight we do suspect that he will give his all, he will come to fight and he will be happy to go to war with Takayama. He may not be world class be he will almost certainly give us action, especially given his toughness.
Whilst Argumedo has yet to impress it's hard not to be impressed by the champion who is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. Takayama is a true warrior, his bouts have been among the most exciting in recent years and his brawl with Francisco Rodriguez Jr was, rightfully, regarded as one of the best fights of 2014. Technically he is flawed but those flaws are somewhat compensated for with his insane work rate, incredible toughness and his amazing will to win.
The 32 year old champion can, at times, be accused of being inconsistent and has been through a very hard career. Bouts against the likes of Rodriguez, Roman Gonzalez, Yutaka Niida and Nkosinathi Joyi have all taken their toll on his body. Despite the inconsistencies and damaging wars Takayama is still a fighter who knows how to pull wins out of the of the bag, as shown last year against Shin Ono and he knows how to turn it on when needed with huge assaults that over-whelm lesser opponents.
For us this bout has just one winner, Takayama. Almost certainly by decision with the aggressive Japanese fighter simply out working and out fighting the Mexican visitor.
Arguably the fight that promises the most this month comes at 105lbs and features one of the sports most exciting veteran fighters and a young man looking to prove a point.
That veteran is Japanese star Katsunari Takayama (29-7-0-1, 11), the IBF Minimumweight champion, and one of the most “must watch” fighters on the planet. He was involved in a bout that many had down as the 2014 FOTY, his 12 round war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, and had previously been in wars with the likes of Mario Rodriguez, Nkosinath Joyi, Yutaka Niida and Eagle Den Junlaphan, among others. In the other corner will be first time world title challenger Ryuji Hara (19-1, 11), a former amateur stand out who now looks to prove himself on the world stage. Although not a star Hara is a former Japanese and OPBF champion who has impressed with his speed and skills in the past.
Of the two men it's Takayama who is, by far, the most well known. His list of opponents reads like a who's who of the lower weights and includes the likes of Roman Gonzalez and Isaac Bustos as well as those named above. Not only has he faced a who's who but he has made his name from his exciting style, his wars with the likes of Rodriguez and his willingness to travel, which has seen him fight in South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico. He is also known for being one of the few “Grandslam” champions, holding every title in his career.
In the ring Takayama has made a name as being a warrior. A true warrior. He's shown an insane work rate, an amazing toughness and a fantastic will to win. We've seen him be out boxed, we've seen him be out fought but we've never see Takayama give up in a fight or slow down, instead it seems the better the opponent the more he steps it up.
Despite his style and energy Takayama does lack power, an issue that has seen him add a lot of miles to the clock. Despite only being 32 he has 302 rounds to his name, an average of more than 8 rounds a fight. Those miles on the clock did, unfortunately show themselves last time out when he was very fortunate to over-come Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr. For the most part that bout was one-sided with Takayama bringing his pressure and work-rate though a cut, inflicted by a punch, should have been a TKO loss. Instead however it resulted in a very controversial technical decision.
Although Takayama is viewed as being a fighter on the slide he is still one of the best in the division and a really proven world level performer.
As for Hara he was a man tipped for success when he first turned professional and for 18 fights success came easily for him. He won the Rookie of the Year before claiming a Japanese title and then an OPBF title whilst running to 18-0. On his way up he beat the likes of Kenichi Horikawa, Takashi Kunishige and Donny Mabao. Unfortunately, last October, he suffered his first defeat, being stopped in 10 rounds of a brilliant bout with the sensational Kosei Tanaka.
Since the loss to Tanaka we've only see Hara fight once, scoring a 2nd round KO win over Thailand's Petchnamchai Sor Sakulwong.
At his best Hara is a fantastically speedy fighter. He's not the most powerful or the strongest but he's very highly skilled and amazingly quick with his hands and his feet. In fact he could well be regarded as one of the sports fastest fighters right now. In terms of ability he's certainly more technically capable than Takayama but much less proven and his loss to Tanaka has perhaps shown that he's just below world class.
Coming in to this bout the key question is “what does Takayama have left?” If Takayama is 90% of the fighter he once was we suspect he'll stop Hara late, with the challenger tiring out in the later rounds. If Takayama however has slipped slightly further than this becomes a bout that really is too hard to call.
The one thing we're sure is that the styles of the two men should gel brilliantly and we should see both men giving their all in a thriller. The aggressive style of Takayama should force the action with Hara looking to create space, box and counter the aggressive champion. As a result we're expecting a potential FOTY.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
Fahlan returns to Osaka and looks to become a second generation champion against the "Lightning Kid" Takayama
December 31st 2013 will be a date that will forever live on in the memory of Thailand's Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (27-3-1, 15). It was the date he scored his career defining victory, a shock upset of the previously unbeaten Ryo Miyazaki in Osaka. It was the date that Fahlan put his name on the boxing map and become, for a few moments, a man with an exciting future ahead of him and several lucrative paydays lined up for him.
Less than 28 months later Fahlan will return to the scene of the crime and hunt a second major win at the Bodymaker Colosseum. This time around he's not just fighting to make a name for himself but also for world honours as he looks to win the IBF Minimumweight title and reach the pinnacle of the sport, like his father. In fact he looks to claim the same title his father held back in the early 1990's.
Fahlan Sakkreerin Sr won the IBF Minimumweight title back in 1990 when he stopped Eric Chavez. He would subsequently defend the belt 7 times, including a rematch with Chavez and a bout with Pretty Boy Lucas, before losing the belt in September 1992. Just 9 months after Sr lost the title Jr was born.
Fahlan Jr was an unknown when he traveled to Japan at the end of 2013. He had never faced anyone of note and had only scored wins over novices and the typical "also rans" that frequent Thailand and regular losers, such as Madit Sada, Samuel Tehuayo and Wilber Andogan. When he left Japan he was a well known fighter with some asking whether or not he could become a world champion. At the time it seemed possible, he was just 20 years old and still developing, both as a man and as a fighter. Time was on his side and the win over Miyazaki netted him world rankings with all 4 world title bodies.
Sadly since the fight with Miyazaki we've seen Fahlan has struggle to recapture any major form, having gone 4-1-1 with a loss to the then 1-0 Takuma Inoue and a disappointing draw with Tatsuya Fukuhara. In all 4 of those fights he has looked limited and lacking that something special. He has however won the IBF Asia Light Flyweight title and used his connections with Kiatkreerin to help enhance his IBF ranking.
Unfortunately for Fahlan the task ahead of him is a difficult one as he takes on the world class Katsunari Takayama (28-7-0-1, 11), a multi-time world champion who has been one of the true warriors of Japanese boxing over the last decade or so. Not only has he been in a number of brilliant fights but he has also been happy to travel for his defining fights as he's created an enviable legacy for himself.
Guided by trainer-come-mentor Hiroaki Nakada we've seen Takayama claim the WBC, IBF, WBO and WBA interim titles in a career that really has been a wonderful and often over-looked one. Sadly he has often been over-shadowed by other Osakan based fighters, such as the more popular Kazuto Ioka, though has genuinely been a credit to the sport and a man capable exciting fans with his action and perpetually aggressive style which makes him a must-watch fighter.
In the ring Takayama is a light punching machine who has shown a willingness to take one to land one, or more often than not a willingness to take 5 to land 5 in wild exchanges that have dominated fights. Sometimes it's not worked for him and he's had to rely on his toughness to see out some real worries, as seen against Roman Gonzalez and Nkosinathi Joyi other times however his toughness, work rate and aggression have been more than enough to help him earn exciting and hard fought wins, such as his 2013 victory over Mario Rodriguez, in Rodriguez's homeland of Mexico.
Takayama is one of our favourites. We've rarely tried to hide that. Though he's also a flawed fighter. Not only has he shown he's happy to take a shot but he often takes a lot of them, his defense is flawed, technically he's a relatively limited “boxer” and in terms of power he's certainly not much of a puncher, in fact he's only stopped one of his last 9 opponents. He often makes up for those flaws with his insane work-rate though he's certainly not unbeatable.
At the end of 2014 we saw Takayama scoring a relatively rare stoppage as he defeated compatriot Go Odaira in a bout for the WBO and IBF titles, which were both vacant. Since then Takayama has vacated the WBO though the big hope is that if he's successful here he'll be getting a shot at Hekkie Budler in November to crown the consensus #1 fighter in the division. That means their is a lot riding on this bout for the “Lightning Kid” though of course if Fahlan can upset him then the Thai could well get the opportunity for the divisional super fight. The stakes really couldn't be much higher.
Coming in to the bout the logical winner, and massive favourite, will be Takayama. He has the experience, he has the skill, he has the desire and the proven world class ability. Worryingly however he was being out boxed by Odaira last time out, prior to the stoppage, and he took a lot of damage in the bout before that, a 12 round FOTY contender with Francisco Rodriguez Jr. When you consider many of his 293 career rounds have been fought at a very high level it's fair to say his body is going to have signs of wear and tear. The same cannot be said of Fahlan who has just over half as many professional rounds and has, generally, fought at a much lower level. Also in Fahlan's favour is his size, given that he's a career Light Flyweight, and his youth. Both of which he'll be hoping to make the most of against Takayama.
In the ring we expect this bout to be action packed. There will be a lot of leather thrown and a lot of back and forth. If Takayama is feeling the effects of his long and hard career things could be very interesting. The general feeling is that Takayama is showing signs of being slightly on the slide. If he is he may feel the weight of Fahlan more than expected, his output might be less intense than usual and he might have a few hairy moments. We suspect the champion will come out on top though we wouldn't shocked to see him struggle at times with his much younger and fresher foe in what will be compelling from the first bell to the last.
(Image courtesy of Thairec.com)
Boxing really does seem to throw out some oddities. Often we get judging and refereeing that leaves a lot to be desired, at the end of the 2014 however we get an oddity by which two world titles will be unified despite the fact neither man involved in the bout goes into the contest as a current champion. The bout, which will be for the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles, has come about after both titles were vacated by Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr and although it's an oddity we suspect it'll be one of the most entertaining fights in recent memory.
The bout in question will see former 3-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (27-7-0-1, 10) battling against Japanese champion Go Odaira (11-3-3, 1). and as you can tell from their records neither man is a puncher though both are tough, active and all action with puncher numbers that many fighters could only dream of.
Originally the bout was set to be just for the IBF title, which Rodriguez had vacated a while back whilst considering his options for the future. Soon after Rodrgiuez then vacated the WBO belt with it becoming obvious that he was leaving the division due to weight struggle. That then allowed the WBO to put their title on the line giving a very peculiar situation, and one made stranger by the fact Rodriguez unified the titles with a victory over Takayama.
Whilst Takayama did lose to Rodriguez, in a genuine 2014 FOTY contender, he is a bonafide world class Minimumweight. He is universally regarded in the top 10 and may well be the stand out fighter currently without a title. That may seem hard to believe considering his record but Takayama has always shown a willingness to fight the best and, as a result, has suffered losses to elite level fighters. Not only has he been fighting the best but he has also shown a willingness to travel to the champions back yard where he has certainly had some misfortune go against him.
Going through the record of Takayama reads like a who's who of the top Minimumweights from the last 10 years. It includes the likes of Isaac Bustos, Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Of those men it was was only really Roman Gonzalez that dominated Takayama, and in fact had Takayama all over the place late in the bout. Not only doe these bouts prove Takayama belongs at the world level but they'll have also helped him develop as a fighter giving him rounds, and rounds, of top level experience.
At best Takayama is capable of boxing and moving, as he did wonderfully against Vergilio Silvano, though he often seems to get himself involved in fan friendly tear ups showing a real heart and determination to not only win but excite fans whilst winning. Sadly for a man who enjoys a brawl Takayama does lack real power but makes up for it in terms of his insane toughness, workrate and his refusal to just lose.
Whilst Takayama is well known by fans of the lower weights due to his bouts against the crem de la crem the same cannot be said for Odaira who is completely unknown to those who don't follow the Japanese scene.
Prior to this year Odaira was a genuine unknown, even for those who followed Japanese boxing religiously. He was 8-3-3 (1), had never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 8 rounds and, aside from a victory over Takashi Kunishige, and a loss to the then unproven Ryuji Hara, there was little on his record to talk about. This year however has been a genuine career year already for Odaira who has won the Japanese Minimumweight title, with a decision over Masashi Tada, and defended it twice by over-coming Yuma Iwahashi and Hiroya Yamamoto.
In all 3 of his wins this year Odaira has looked like a fighter who is improving and developing a real understand of what is it, to be a professional boxer. He seems to know his weaknesses and his strengths and has really began fighting like a man who knows who he needs to do to make the most of his career. That has seen him focussing on his natural speed, his movement and his energy. He now fights a lot like his manager Susumu Hanagata and is always on the move, always looking to pump out the jab and always trying to be busy. He knows he's not going to knock fighters out but knows there's more than one way to skin a cat and winning with crisp punching is just as good as winning by knockout. Notably the style did take Hanagata to a world title back in the 1970's.
Although Odaira has speed to burn he is stepping up in class, notably for this bout and really hasn't shared the ring with anyone quite like Takayama. That's not to say he can't hold his own but that he is stepping up massively for this bout and that can come with a lot of pressure, especially given that this will be his first near the top of a major show with fans around the world tuning in.
What we're expecting here is for both men to begin the contest with boxing in mind. Both will punch on the move and try to work their way in. It's what happens in the second stage of the contest that really decides how this bout goes. If Takayama can hold his own in terms of boxing with Odaira this could be a really high paced boxing contest with both throw copious amounts of jabs. Alternatively if Takayama feels he can't box the boxer then he'll bring the fight and we'll have Takayama trying to brawl with Odaira in what would make for one of the most action packed fights of the year.
If it does turn into a brawl then the action will be insane. Neither man will be expected to hurt the other and will feel they need to out work the other man leading to long and exciting trading sequences between two men. When they happen we suspect Takayama will get the upper hand and will do enough to impress the judges with his more varied assaults up close.
If the bout doesn't break out into a brawl we suspect Takayama takes a close and very competitive decision, if he can force the brawl and exchanges then he'll take home a clearer win.
We suspect Takayama will win and become the first 4-time world champion from Japan and the first Japanese fighter to claim a version of all 4 belts. If Odaira wins however then he has a serious claim for being the breakthrough fighter of the year, even surpassing Amnat Ruenroeng in that respect. It really would complete an amazing year for Yokohama man.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
This coming weekend's major fight, at least for us anyway, is in Mexico as Japan's incredibly brave and criminally under-rated Katsunari Takayama (27-6-0-1, 10) attempts to unify his IBF Minimumweight title with the WBO title currently held by the big punching Francisco Rodriguez Jr (14-2, 10). The bout, one of the very few Minimumweight title unifications, is a major one for both men who are both looking to claim that they are the best at 105lbs.
For Takayama this bout is a special one. It's his chance to became the first ever Japanese fighter to claim a "Grandslam" and to have won a version of all 4 of the major titles, thus achieving one of the goals he set out to accomplish when he returned to the sport after his short lived retirement. It's certainly a big ask but it's something he seems confident of doing.
For Rodriguez this continues his rapid rise through the sport following his victory over Merlito Sabillo earlier this year. It was that victory over Sabillo that saw Rodriguez winning his WBO belt and announcing himself as a serious force in the Minimumweight division.
Takayama, for those who haven't followed his career, has been one of the true "will fight anyone, anywhere" type fighters. This has seen him travelling to South Africa 3 times, including two fights Nkosinathi Joyi, the Philippines to fight Mateo Handig and to Mexico to fight Mario Rodriguez. In total Takayama has fought just 2 of his last 7 bouts in his native Japan.
Not only has Takayama fought top fighters on the road but he has also fought top fighters in his native Japan. This has included a fight with the brilliant Roman Gonzalez, Yutaka Niida and Eagle Den Junlaphan. In fact going through Takayama's record there are very few fighters that he didn't fight in the Minimumweight division such as Akira Yaegashi and Ivan Calderon.
For Rodriguez this will be his fourth fight with a notable foe. As mentioned above he holds an outstanding victory over Merlito Sabillo and he also holds a win over Manuel Vargas whilst his most recent loss came, via stoppage, to the sensational Roman Gonzalez. It's arguably the Gonzalez fight, in Nicaragua, that told more about Rodriguez than any other. It showed he was tough, despite being stopped, that his work rate was solid and that for a 20 year old he had real potential.
Young, powerful and strong we really do think that Rodriguez is a serious threat to Takayama and could well upset the popular and talented Japanese fighter much like he upset Sabillo. He is a pressure fighter with a growing confidence and ever developing skills that could help make him one of the divisional kingpins over the next few years, if he stays at 105lbs which it's self is a debate and a half.
Going for Takayama however are a number of things, not least his experience against the divisional elite. He is also one of the toughest and bravest fighters out there and if nothing else he has shown an ability to survive, in fact his sole KO loss, way back in 2003, came from over-confidence. Most importantly however is his energy and against a pressure fighter that could well be the key for him to succeed. He has proven capable of being able to fight at a great pace from the opening round to the final bell and, despite being hurt though his career he has been able to bounce back and recover excellently.
Although we tend to feel Takayama has a lot of advantages going in to the fight he has also had major issues in the build up to the bout. Firstly he saw his trainer, manager and mentor Hiroaki Nakade spend time in hospital early in his training camp. That was because Nakade needed an aneurysm removing and whilst he seems to have recovered from surgery it will have been an unwelcome distraction for Takayama. Another problem that has troubled his camp has been a cut over his right eye which was accidentally opened by Naoya Inoue in sparring. That cut, suffered just weeks before the fight, saw several planned spars cancelled and will have seriously thrown a spanner into Takayama's training plans. Thankfully it appears that that facial damage has healed though it is a target for Rodriguez to aim for and the talk is that Takayama really struggled in the spar with Inoue.
We'd like to think that Takayama will win, though we know he's in a very tough contest here and we'd certainly not be surprised at all to see him pushed all the way in a very hard bout. Of course bouts that fought on foreign soil do come with the risk of the judges being swayed by the home fighter and sadly we see that being an issue here. Takayama, for all his skills, isn't a fighter who stops opponents and we'd be shocked if he manages to see off Rodriguez which means it's likely this one is going 12 and we think Rodriguez will get the nod, albeit a controversial one.
(Image courtesy of http://nakazatoboxing.com)
When we get asked about our favourite fighter we often list the names that everyone will enjoy watching. Guys like Takashi Miura, Manny Pacquiao, Takashi Uchiyama, and Shinsuke Yamanaka are amongst the first names we come out with. Another is IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (26-6-0-1, 10) who has the old school mentality of fighting anyone to prove how good he is.
Takayama's record bares the scars of his attitude to boxing. If you fight the best often enough you will lose fights and that's what he's done to the likes of Eagle Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez and Nkosinathi Joyi. At the time of fighting those men 3 of them were regarded as the best fighter in the Minimumweight division.
It's the attitude of Takayama that has made us fans. He's shown a willingness to fight the best, he's called for unification fights repeatedly, he's chased the IBF title, that he now holds, around the globe and he seems intent on claiming the WBO belt to become the first Japanese fighter to have held all 4 world titles. It's a fresh attitude, it's brave and it's great. If more fighters had the same mentality we'd have a much better sport.
It's not just the mentality of Takayama out of the ring that is so good but also inside the ring. At his best he's a buzzsaw with movement, toughness, bravery and work rate. He may not have the power of Pacquiao but stylistically there are a lot of similarities with what made Pacquiao so popular.
On May 7th Takayama attempts to defend his IBF title for the second time as he battles challenger Shin Ono (17-5-2, 2) in what we view as a bit of a stay busy defence against his countryman and whilst that sounds harsh it's not supposed to be, we just think Takayama is in a league of 2 with South African Hekkie Budler as his only real rival.
Ono is a good fighter. He is a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion and he holds notable wins over both Yu Kimura and Xiong Zhao Zhong as well as an unbeaten record dating back to 2011.
In a perfect world Zhong wouldn't have lost his WBC world title to Oswoldo Novoa earlier this year. That would have left a much anticipated unification between Takayama and Zhong. Instead Takayama is fighting the man who last beat Zhong before the Chinese fighter became a world champion. It's not ideal but it does make a little bit of sense.
In regards to how the fight is expected to go. Ono is a decent enough fighter to make Takayama work to defend his title, but isn't good enough to really trouble him. The challenger lacks the traits needed to beat Takayama, the timing, skills, power and speed. Ono is good enough to be world ranked, with the IBF #10 ranking making a lot more sense than the WBO #6 ranking he also holds, but the southpaw has never been in with someone as complete as the champion who we expect will take a clear, though hard fought, decision to retain his title.
We're hoping that if things go as expected we'll see Takayama meet Budler later this year in an IBF/WBA unification bout in either Japan, South Africa or Monaco.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe Gym)
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.