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 Flyweight division has long been one of the best divisions in the sport, combining both great fighters and amazing bouts. In recent years however it's wobbled a bit as the top guys have gone up in weight and left the 112lb weight class feeling a little bit like a void as fighters begin to step up to bigger challenges. This has seen the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Nietes all abandon the division for success at Super Flyweight. As a result the division currently lacks in terms of x-factor, with good but not amazing champions, like Sho Kimura and Artem Dalakian. We're currently missing a real star in the division, and whilst Cristofer Rosales looks to be the best of the bunch he doesn't have the same allure as a Gonzalez, Estrada or even the now retired Kazuto Ioka.
This coming Sunday we get the chance to see another two fighters throw their hats into the ring to try and become the division's star and the new IBF Flyweight champion. The bout in question will see former champion Moruti Mthalane (35-2, 24) attempt to reclaim the title as he faces off with Korean based Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem (8-0, 6).
Of the two men it's Mthalane who is more well known. He is best, internationally, for giving Nonito Donaire a few really tough rounds back in 2008, before being stopped on cuts in round 6. Since then the South African has gone 13-0 (9), with some notable issues with inactivity plaguing his career. Although he hasn't been massively active he has notched up some brilliant wins, including victories over Julio Cesar Miranda, Zolani Tete, Johnriel Casimero and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly he has, like many African fighters, struggled to get the career defining fights on a big stage and actually gave up the IBF title rather than get paid pennies to face a then unknown Amnat Ruenroeng after 4 defenses.
Since vacating the IBF title Mthalane has been arguably the best Flyweight to essentially be locked out of the title picture. He's too dangerous to face as a voluntary and he was unable to secure a mandatory position until the IBF title was vacated by Donnie Nietes. Despite missing out on a world title fight he has been picking up his activity and he fit 3 fights into 2017, winning all 3 by stoppage.
At the age of 35, soon to be 36, the South African will know that a loss will be the end of his hopes of becoming a 2-time world champion, at least with the 4 big organisations. He is however a tough, skilled, accurate and aggressive fighter with very under-rated power who will look to take the fight to his foe here.
Waseem on the other hand is a bit of an unknown to many fans, and this will be, by far, the highest profile bout of his career. The Pakistani born fighter turned professional in 2015 under the promotional guidance of Andy Kim, who has matched Waseem aggressively and gotten him very high level training. He made his professional debut in a 10 round bout for the Korean Bantamweight title and less than 10 months later he had claimed the WBC Silver Flyweight title. From then on it seemed like he was heading towards a WBC title fight but financial issues almost derailed his career. What had been a fast track to the top approach for Waseem hit a brick wall and he spent 2017 fighting in stay busy fights on under-cards in Panama.
In the ring Waseem has looked like a fighter able to do it all. He can box, he can bang and he can move. He began his career like a fighter wanting to test things, get used to the ring and the distance of a fight, looking like he was working on things all the time. After his 2016 win over Giemel Magramo however he's had to do a lot less to pick up wins and instead beaten some very abject opponents in any way that he wanted. If he can still mix the different styles together then it's very possible that he could use his speed to out fox and bamboozle the hard hitting Mthalane.
At 30 years old Waseem is young enough to have a nice reign, if he comes out on top here, but given his lack of financial backing there is a real issue he could find his reign cut short like Mthalane did when he held the title a few years ago.
Although there is a huge gulf in experience here we do actually favour Waseem. He appears to be the fresher fighter, the fighter who hasn't had the bouts against the likes of Donaire and Nunez. Mthalane is going to be dangerous through the fight, and Waseem can't get lazy, but if he uses his legs, moves and prevents Mthalane from setting his feet there's a great chance for Korea and Pakistan to claim a world champion.
The Flyweight division is one of the most interesting at the moment, with a really nice mix of fighters at the top. We have the destructive Daigo Higa, the crude but gutsy Sho Kimura and the highly experienced Donnie Nietes. The division might not have a huge amount of star power, but it does have a real nice mix of fighters and has the potential to have a huge year in 2018, with the likes of Kosei Tanaka looking to make a mark there.
This coming Saturday we get the chance to see a really interesting match up in the division as the aforementioned Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22) makes his first defense of the IBF title and looks to extend his claim of being the division's elder statesman. In the opposite corner to Nietes will be another veteran, Juan Carlos Reveco (39-3, 19), who will be hunting a third world title to add to his long list of achievements.
Aged 35 Nietes is a bit of a freak for the little weights. He is, for all intents, an ancient fighter and debuted as a professional way back in 2003 within 17 months he had gone 11-0-1, before losing very controversially to Angky Angkotta in Indonesia, whilst being outweighed by 6lbs. Ever since that loss, back in 2004, Nietes has gone unbeaten running up a 29-0-3 record. That is even more impressive when you consider he has fought a huge number of those bouts at world level, and claimed world titles at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, establishing himself as one of the best little men of his generation and one of the best Filipino fighters ever.
During his 32 fight unbeaten run Nietes has fought in 16 world title bouts, going 15-0-1 (6). On paper those numbers are really good, and even more so when you consider he has beaten fighters like Pornsawan Porpramook, Jesus Silvestre, Moises Fuentes and Francisco Rodriguez Jr . What has helped him have such longevity is his high boxing IQ, excellent skills and real understanding of himself and his opponents. He is a really smart boxing who doesn't excel in any physical area but does everything brilliantly. He can box at range and up close, and dictates the tempo and range of a bout brilliantly. He hits hard enough to get the respect of opponents, he's accurate and although he can be out worked be is a real thinking man's fighter who appears to have developed a lot from his experience.
Reveco has also become one of the lower weights veterans, and at 34 he's not much younger than Nietes and debuted just a year later than the Filipino. The talented Reveco raced out to the WBA Light Flyweight title, winning the belt in his 16th bout by stopping Thai Nethra Sasiprapa. His reign was however a short one, and he would lose the title in his second defense as he was out pointed by Frenchman Brahim Asloum, in what was Reveco's first bout outside of Argentina. Within a year of the loss to Asloum we saw Reveco claim the WBA “interim” Light Flyweight title, before moving up in weight and winning the WBA “interim” Flyweight title. That interim title was later upgraded to the full Flyweight title , which he would defend against the likes of Masayuki Kuroda, Ricardo Nunez, Felix Avarado and Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep. Those wins showed that Reveco was a talented, tough and smart fighter with top class body shots and and a real gutsy desire. He also held his own in a very narrow defeat to Kazuto Ioka in April 2015, in a very close bout. A rematch with Ioka however saw the Japanese fighter show a new maturity and stop Reveco with a really stellar performance.
Since lose to Ioka at the end of 2017 we've seen Reveco go 3-0 with a notable win last time out against Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking to earn a crack at the IBF title. He has proven there is still something left in the tank, and against Eaktwan we saw Reveco put on a brilliant performance, using his hand speed, his movement, and his skills to avoid an all out war with the naturally bigger Thai. He will need to use those traits, along with his trademark body punching, if he's to stand a chance here.
With both Nietes and Reveco getting on in age it's hard to know what either man really has left. There is a chance that both have one last great performance, there is also a chance that father time gets to either man. A few years ago this bout would have been something really special, but now, whilst it's still an excellent fight it does feel like the loser will be sent into retirement. That may mean that both men pull out all the stops, but it could also mean neither man has the fire, speed or snap they once had. Going on recent performances we do favour Nietes, who has avoided the wars that Reveco has had, to come out on top, but could certainly see the enducated body shots of Reveco giving the Filipino real problems.
We think this bout could have been a classic 3 years ago, had Nietes moved up back then, or even down at 108lbs. We still still think it'll be a really, really good fight,but can't get over the fact that that they have a combined age of almost 70, and both will have seen better days.
It wasn't that long ago that the Flyweight division looked like the best division in the sport. Sadly a lot of the top Flyweights from a couple of years ago moved up in weight, giving us a super strength Super Flyweight division but essentially leaving the Flyweight division a bit of a mess and a division lacking in terms of depth.
Despite being a mess the Flyweight division is, slowly, taking shape and we've had some notable bouts recently, with more just around the corner. The next of those to take place will see former 2 weight champion Donnie Nietes (39-1-4, 22) battle with Thailand's Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking (22-3, 15) to fill the IBF title vacancy. For Nietes the bout could see him becoming a 3-weight champion and solidifying his place as a Filipino legend whilst a win for the Thai would put him on the proverbial boxing map and help make him a fixture on the international boxing scene.
Aged 34, and turning 35 in just a few weeks, Nietes is a properly seasoned veteran, but who who is scarcely showing signs of slow down. That's despite having a career that began back in 2003 and has seen him fight consistently in world title bouts since September 2007, when he claimed the WBO Minimumweight title. During his time at world level he has beaten a who's who of the lower weights, including Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Raul Garcia and Edgar Sosa. He has compiled an amazing 14-0-1 record in world title fights and notched top tier wins in the Philippines, Mexico and US in a career which will almost certainly lead to a place in the HOF.
In the ring we've seen Nietes do it all. At his best he's a counter punching genius but he can fight on the front foot when he wants to, has under-rated power, under-rated speed and is not only technically sound but also has a very high boxing IQ. Given his age it seems clear he is now wanting to add to his legacy, and potentially chase some career defining wins, to add to his strong resume. He is however a fighter who has, at times, looked lazy, lacked the killer instinct and been happy to go through the motions, as he did last time out against Sosa. At his best he could well be one of the best little men in the sport, though failure to face the best Japanese fighters of his era is certainly something that will hang over his head given his long reign on top.
It's clear that Nietes can still go hard and fast for 12 rounds, though he has avoided really damaging bouts for the most part and is one of the freshest 34 year olds in the sport. Even then father time does take it's toll and it's unclear when Nietes will “get old”.
Whilst Nietes is well known at world level, and has long been on the fringes of the pound-for-pound lists with the real hardcore fans, the same cannot be said for Eaktawan, also known as Komgrich Nantapech. In fact the 27 year old Thai is a total unknown outside of Asia, and is hardly known outside of homeland. That's, in part, due to fighting under alternative names early in his career as well as having very little success outside of Thailand. In fact his first three losses, in 2012 to Albert Pagara and in 2013 to Sho Ishida and Froilan Saludar, were all fought under the name Tawanrung Eausampan. Since those losses however he has began to climb through the rankings and looked like a genuine talent with lovely offensive skills and combinations.
Although Eaktawan has shown some real skills, beating the likes of Lionel Legada, Takayuki Okumoto and Jenny Boy Boca there are flaws in his game. He is very much an offensive fighter, who has throws eye catching combinations, looks very relaxed and very fluid in the ring. Sadly he is defensively flawed, leaving openings for counters punches and a slightly open guard. Against a great counter puncher like Nietes he could be punished for his flaws. Saying that however he is likely to be the naturally bigger and stronger fighter against Nietes, and is obviously the younger, less damaged fighter. It's worth noting that his only losses have been above the Flyweight limit, with two losses coming at Bantamweight, and he is clearly a tough fighter.
The Thai is stepping up massively for this fight and although he has a number of advantages the question will be whether he has the skills to beat Neites. The obvious answer is that he doesn't have the skills needed to over-come someone as talented as the Filipino icon. However this is a niggling feeling that Eaktawan is better than his record suggests, and that he has the energy, young and toughness to make this a very tough assignment for Neites. We know that Nietes will be the favourite, and should win, but there is a niggling feeling that the Thai has got the timing right here, and could well spring one of the biggest upsets of 2017.
Over the past few years we've began to see more and more fighters being fast tracked. These have included fighters Kosei Tanaka, Vasyl Lomachenko and Naoya Inoue, who have all claimed world titles in double quick time. The next fighter attempting to win a world title in under 10 bouts is Englishman Charlie Edwards (8-0, 3), who is looking to claim the IBF Flyweight title this coming Saturday, in his 9th professional bout. He's looking to take that title from the very well travelled and genuinely world class Johnriel Casimero (22-3, 14), who looks to record the first defense the title he won in May in China.
Usually we're excited to see fighters being fast tracked. Out excitement in regards to fighters like Hinata Maruta is well known. Sadly for Edwards the problem he's facing here isn't that he's being fast tracked, it's that he's being moved from British level to world level without having gained the skills and experience to really have a fighting chance.
The 23 year old British fighter was a good amateur before turning professional last year. In September last year he claimed the English Flyweight title, beating Louis Norman, and defended it once against Phil Smith. He has also claimed the WBC International Silver Flyweight title, with a win over Luke Wilton.
In many ways Edwards has done what has been asked of him. Sadly for him there is a huge gulf, between the level he has been fighting at and world class. In fact he's not just taking a leap up in class but an elevator up and he has shown little to suggest that he should be taking that ride at this time. He been able to go 10 rounds, albeit against British level fighters who looked relatively limited themselves. What would have been better for the youngster would have been to have fought some higher level fighters to develop the skills and test himself well ahead of a world title opportunity.
Whilst there is a huge gulf between British level Flyweights and world class Flyweights a fight with some one like Ramon Garcia Hirales, Masayuki Kuroda, Alberto Rossel or Pablo Carrillo would have done the world of good for the youngster and helped prepare him for a world class fighter.
Whilst Edwards is a talented but possibly unprepared fighter the same cannot be said of Casimero who is experienced, proven, talented and as gutsy as they come. Those guts have seen him become a modern day road warrior and a 2-weight world champion. He's been fighting at world level since December 2009, when he beaten Cesar Canchila in Nicaragua and has since fought in Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Panama, Thailand and China. Not only has he been fighting on the road but he's been winning there two with his most famous wins coming in Argentina, against Luis Alberto Lazarte, and in China, where he stopped Amnat Ruenroeng earlier this year.
Technically speaking Casimero is bit crude, he's open and defensively he has holes. But he is a world class fighter with explosive speed and thudding power. He's not a steam roller in the ring but having a fight with him is a terrible idea and he's relentless in his pursuit of victory. That was seen when he defeated Lazarte and when he defeated Ruenroeng, with the referee and judges being against him in both fights.
We mentioned that Edwards could have done with facing some fringe level guys in preparation for this bout. As for Casimero, who has faced a who's who including Ardin Diale, Canchila, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moruti Mthalane, Lazarte, Pedro Guevara and Ruenroeng, twice, his competition is stellar and he has scarcely come up short. In fact the loss where he embarrassed himself was his defeat to Mthalane which came far too soon for the Filipino, and we suspect this opportunity has come to soon for Edwards.
Whilst Casimero is flawed he will know that he needs to keep this out of the judges hands that will likely inspire him to be more aggressive than usual. Edwards will start well, bouyed on by his home fans, but we suspect that Casimero's proven world class ability and power will play their part in the latter stages with Edwards simply being ground down by the Filipino.
One of the most controversial bouts last year saw IBF Flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng (17-0, 5) [อำนาจ รื่นเริง] successfully retain his title with a decision win over Filipino Johnriel Casimero (21-3, 13). The bout was marred by fouling and wrestling from Ruenroeng, in fact the wrestling completely destroyed any semblance of a boxing contest and annoyingly it was all allowed from referee Larry Doggett, who was embarrassingly bad.
This coming Wednesday, 11 months after their first bout, the men will meet again, this time on neutral ground in China with referee being the world class Tony Weeks. This time around we hope that boxing will be the order of the day, and not wrestling.
At his best Ruenroeng is a real nightmare for anyone at 112lbs. He's 36 but fights like a fresh-faced 20-something year old, he's got great reflexes, he's physically strong, and has freakishly long arms. Despite those traits he is better known for simply being “tricky”, “difficult” and “frustrating”. A fighter who has skills but doesn't rely on his skills and instead relies on tricks, something that seems to be used to cover up what flaws he has, including possible issues with stamina.
When it comes to Casimero the Filipino was a fantastic Light Flyweight, combining skills, power, speed and genuine explosiveness to be an offensive nightmare. He combined those traits with a road warriors mentality and a real mental toughness, a toughness that saw him claim major wins across the planet. At Flyweight he may be outsized and out powered, but he is still explosive and could, potentially, still give some very good fighters some absolute nightmares.
Given how the first fight went we are expecting the rules to be bent by Amnat, but we think that the Thai will be punished for repeated infractions this time around. Notably what pure boxing did occur in the first fight saw Amnat look the better man, getting his shots first and and getting away without taking much in return.
If Amnat can box, and frustrate Casimero legally then there is very little chance for Casimero, who will have little more than a punchers chance. If, however, Casimero can control the action, make it a fight, albeit a clean one, then he has a chance to wear down the 36 year old Thai, who has shown some questionable stamina and is a very advanced age for a Flyweight.
We suspect Amnat will win, we suspect the bout will be messy and dirty but we think the win will be less controversial than the one he scored when the men first met just less than a year ago.
Over the last few years we've seen the lower weight divisions getting attention due to a number of exciting and action based fighters. Through fighters, such as Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada, fans have been given some really fun fights. Whilst it has been those action fighters that have brought the attention to those divisions we also have a few fighters who stand out for other reasons, such as the dirty, tricky and ugly Amnat Ruenroeng (16-0, 5), who is perhaps the most stylistically frustrating of any of the smaller men in the sport.
Ruenroeng came to the attention of the hardcore fans back when he was an amateur though really it was last year that he came out of nowhere to claim the IBF Flyweight title, with a decision win over Rocky Fuentes. The win over Fuentes began a run of great results for the Thai who has since beaten Kazuto Ioka, McWilliams Arroyo, Zou Shiming and Johnriel Casimero, with the wins over Ioka and Shiming coming on the road. The wins haven't always been pretty but they have seen Ruenroeng show various facets to his game, including his boxing ability, physical strength and dirty tricks.
Although Ruenroeng is 35, in fact he's coming up to 36, he's a very young 35 and hasn't been in the wars that age a fighter. In fact he's got the speed, stamina, timing and strength of a much younger man. It's fair to say that he's the youngest 35 year old in boxing today.
On December 7th Ruenroeng returns to the ring for his 5th defense of the IBF Flyweight title as he takes on little known Japanese challenger Myung Ho Lee (19-4-1, 6). For Amnat the bout is regarded as a foregone conclusion before a possible unification bout next year, for Lee however the opportunity is a huge one, and a chance for him to end the rise of the Thai.
The Japanese challenger really is very unknown outside of Asia, though has fought in Mexico once where he gave Edgar Sosa a very tough outing 3 years ago. The Sosa bout, which ended in a majority decision loss for Lee, is really the most notable of Lee's bout, though he has also suffered defeats to Rocky Fuentes and Rey Megrino, whilst also fighting to a draw with Hirofumi Mukai. In regards to wins his most notable came more than 4 years ago when he beat Shin Ono.
Although not considering as one of the best Flyweights in Japan Lee is a man worth giving some attention too. He's one of only 3 men to lose a decision to Megrino, one of the sports most criminally under-rated punchers who has stopped 6 of his last 7 foes including Pongsaklek Wonjongkam and Ernesto Saulong, he was also able to hold his own with 2-time world title challenger Mukai and given his experience he could well ask some genuine question of Amnat.
Although Lee is no pushover, and could well go into the bout with Amnat with a rough gameplan, it is hard to see him becoming the first Japanese fighter to claim a world title in Thailand. The likely outcome is that Lee does give Amnat a few problems, especially if he fights dirty against one of the dirtiest players in the game, but he'll not have the skills to shine when he needs them, like Amnat does. As a result we have to expect the champion to retain with a clear, but rough, decision.
The Flyweight division really is red hot at the moment and it has such a lovely mix of fighters in it that it's got something for everyone. If you like your wars you have fighters like Koki Eto and Takuya Kogawa, if you like your boxer's you have Kazuto Ioka and Juan Francisco Estrada and if you like your seek and destroy types then you have Roman Gonzalez. It also has one of the sports most talented “spoilers”, IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng (15-0, 5), who will be defending his title on June 27th against one of the sports most explosive little men, Johnriel Casimero (21-2, 13).
The first thing to note about the contest is that it's the second mandatory defense for Ruenroeng, who has quickly developed an impressive resume. The champion won his title in his 12th bout, beating the under-rated Rocky Fuentes, and has since defended it thrice. The first defense was a voluntary in Japan against the aforementioned Ioka, the second was back in Thailand against McWilliams Arroyo in a mandatory defense, whilst most recent Ruenroeng travelled to Macau and upset for amateur rival Zou Shiming.
The second thing to note is that this bout is in Thailand, a country that renowned for being very difficult for visiting fighters. We're not suggesting that Ruenroeng has had many gifts, though the Arroyo fight certainly could have gone the other way, but we have seen Thai's get some very dubious decisions in their favour at home. It's sometimes joked that a fighter needs to get a knockout in Germany to get a draw and, at times, the same can be said of Thailand. Of course there have been visiting fighters winning world titles in Thailand, notably Manny Pacquiao claimed his first world title in the country, but they are certainly rare.
The champion, a former amateur stand out, has quickly proven his ability and shown why he was fast tracked as a professional. He was a professional for less than 24 months when he claimed his world title and has really grown in to the role of being a world champion. Unfortunately for many of peers, and fans in general, he's not the most attractive fighter to watch but he has a style that he has almost perfect. He's quick, very sharp, accurate and strong. He's far from a big puncher but he's so sharp with his counters and has such impressive reach that he neutralises opponents on the outside and manages to tie them up and frustrate them on the inside.
Whilst Ruenroeng is widely regarded as being a level, or two, behind the likes of Gonzalez and Estrada he's got a style that will make him very difficult to beat and he always seems to look relaxed in the ring, even when he's travelled to face big names in their backyard's.
Aged 35 Ruenroeng is ancient for a Flyweight, in fact he's older than Pongsaklek Wonjongkam was the last time he held a world title, though he's a very young 35 and hasn't got the miles on the clock that many fighters his age have. In fact for a Thai he's really fresh and hasn't been through a gruelling career which has prematurely aged him. He may age over night but it doesn't seem likely, yet.
Whilst the champion has carved out an impressive resume in recent years the challenger hasn't done badly either and in fact the 25 year old Casimero may well be the sports top road warrior right now. His first 13 bouts were all at home in the Philippines though since then he has travelled to Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, South Africa and Argentina and fought 7 of his last 10 bouts outside of his homeland.
Not only has Casimero travelled but he's done amazingly well on the road. On his travels he has beaten the likes of Cesar Canchila in Nicaragua, Luis Alberto Lazarte in Argentina, in a bout marred by a post-fight riot, Pedro Guevara in Mexico, a win that looks even better now given that Guevara is a world champion himself, and Luis Alberto Rios in Panama.
Casimero is sensationally talented boxer-puncher. He's blessed with lightening speed, real bravery, and spiteful power, something his record doesn't really reflect in terms of numbers. Despite a sub 57% stoppage rate Casimero has impressively stopped the likes of Ardin Diale, Canchila, Lazarte, Felipe Salguero and Armando Santos. He really seems to have grown into his power and, having outgrown the Light Flyweight division, he's certainly growing into a man.
Talking about Casimero as a Light Flyweight, that was here he really made his name. It was at 108lbs that Casimero claimed the WBO interim title and later the IBF title. Back then he appeared to look like a boy though now he's began to look like a man in the ring a trio of stoppages backs that up. The fact Casimero has out grown the Light Flyweight division also suggests that he's grown into being a Flyweight and isn't just some “blown up” fighter from the weight below.
Coming in to this bout the question will be whether or not Casimero can get in and land before Ruenroeng ties him up. If Ruenroeng can keep a busy jab and keep Casimero at range this really could be a very dull, frustrating and one sided bout. If however Casimero can slip the jab, something he has the ability to do, and catch the Thai with his explosive shots then there is a good chance that this ends up having it's moments of real excitement.
For Ruenroeng to win he needs to do what he does so well and use his speed and reach to land single shots at range then frustrate and neutralise his challenger. If Ruenroeng manages that then it'll be an ugly win for the Thai who will add another impressive victory to his record. For Casimero to win he needs to be as explosive as possible and land with his lightning quick shots. If he lands before he gets tied up then there is a great chance that Ruenroeng will be forced to fight back at a pace he's not comfortable with.
Sadly for Casimero we do believe he'll need to dominate to win and, due to the styles, we don't see that happening. Instead we think Amnat takes this with a clear but frustrating decision.
(Image courtesy of Kiatkreerin)
Macau might not be a boxing hotspot yet but it is a growing market and it is somewhere that Bob Arum, one of the world's premier promoters, has targeted as an Asian boxing hub. He has built his small Asian boxing empire on the potential success of one man, Zou Shiming (6-0, 1).
Shiming, a former Chinese amateur star, is potentially the key to opening up not only Macau but China as a whole. His amateur success made him an instant name to remember in the professional ranks and also seemed to make him an instant enemy for many fight fans who were against the hype he was receiving. On march 7th Shiming has a chance to live up to the hype and claim a world title in just his 7th professional bout. Doing so would see Bob Arum's investment in Shiming look like an incredibly shrewd bit of business whilst a loss may well end the Macau experiment, or at least temporarily derail it.
Trying to expose the Shiming myth is a former amateur rival, Thailand's Amant Ruenroeng (14-0, 5), the current IBF Flyweight champion and a serious contender for the 2014 Fighter of the Year award.
Prior to last year only the hardcore were aware of Ruenroeng. He was a solid amateur but not an international star like Shiming. He had however, prior to the start of last year, ran up an 11-0 (5) record and moved quietly into the IBF rankings whilst fans in Thailand had quietly been raving about Ruenroeng and his life, which had turned from crime to a national amateur success story.
In the amateurs these two met thrice with Shiming holding a 2-1 edge in the unpaid ranks. It's fair to say that that rivalry, a friendly but highly competitive one, has helped lead us to where we are. Shiming is looking to repeated his success in the professional ranks whilst Amnat is looking to avenge his losses and continue to develop his professional career, which has been very good so far.
For those who have hated on Shiming since he turned professional in 2013 it's fair to say they have some credit to their views. Shiming has been hyped, he has been over-payed and he has been given preferential treatment. He has however worked hard, quickly developed a professional style and he has been fast tracked. He has however also brought international attention to the Flyweight division, offered some fans a chance to see Flyweights in action and brought HBO camera's to Macau.
On his debut, against Eleazar Valenzuela in April 2013, Shiming looked awful. He was slapping, still looking like an amateur and really didn't impress. It seemed as if Bob Arum had signed a very pricey bust. Fight after fight however Shiming improved. This was seen most impressively in his last two bouts which saw him take wide decisions over Luis De la Rosa and Kwanpichit OnsongchaiGym.
We'll admit we were impressed, for the most part, with Shiming's performance against Kwanpichit. Shiming dropped the then unbeaten Thai numerous and appeared to have secured a stoppage at one point, though Danrex Tapdasan blew the call. He did revert back to type late on and failed to close the show but for a man in the 6th bout of his career and going to his first 12 rounder bout he was impressive.
Shiming's amateur experience is of course one of his big strengths though it's certainly not his only one. He of course has Bob Arum's financial backing and the support of China though he also has blurring handspeed, under-rated power, beautiful combinations and genuine skills. On the other hand he lacks killer instinct, he's not a concussive puncher and he still reverts to slapping at times. There is plenty to be impressed by but there is holes.
For those who haven't seen Ruenroeng we need to ask how you managed to ignore him last year. The rangy Thai is a very relaxed boxer who is wonderful as a counter puncher and sensational as a boxer. His 2014 was a stand out year, and were it not for Naoya Inoue there would be few denying Ruenroeng as the Asian fighter of the year. He began the year by out pointing experienced Filipino Rocky Fuentes in a bout for the IBF Flyweight title, that win alone was impressive and a brilliant way to announce himself on the world stage. In his first defence of the title he defeated the then unbeaten Kazuto Ioka, in Japan, as he neutralised Ioka and made Ioka fight the wrong fight, before then adding McWilliams Arroyo to his list of victims with a narrow points win in Thailand.
All 3 of those bouts were great wins for Ruenroeng though they all seemed to show something different about the Thai. Against Fuentes he managed to move like a ballerina and kept Fuentes from making the most of his relentless pressure, against Ioka the jab was key to stopping Ioka from settling whilst against Arroyo we saw heart and determination as well as some dirty and negative tactics. What they all showed however was that Ruenroeng had very good technique, very solid defense, very quick hands and a relative lack of power. Like Shiming he is good, but clearly lacks in some areas.
When the two men meet we're going to have an abundance of handspeed with a lack of power. It's not going to be explosive but it will be exciting and intriguing with both men knowing what is at stake.
At a neutral venue we would favour Ruenroeng, who appears the more polished professional. But we wouldn't feel confident. In Macau that shifts. We have to favour Shiming, especially with Bob Arum's investment and the potential for Shiming to become one of the sports major cash cows. Regardless of venue however we suspect this will be very competitive with neither man doing much to clearly define himself against his opponent. The rounds will be close, the fight will be close and no matter who wins the loser will feel wronged.
What we expect is almost an amateur-esque contest fought between two very talented fighters who rely on their speed and skills more than their power and strength. Early on we think the bout will be a typical well fought boxing contest with little in terms of clinches or brawling. In the middle and later rounds however we think things could get messy with Ruenroeng trying to mess things up a bit and Shiming reverting to slapping. It's during those rounds that the fight will likely be decided on the scorecards of the neutrals.
We're expecting poor scorecards in favour of Shiming though we're also expecting a fight that will be too close to really call on anyone's card in a fight that will hopefully bring more attention to one of the sports best divisions.
(Image courtesy of http://www.bcmagazine.net)
Amnat returns to Thailand for mandatory against Arroyo and to add to his claim as the break through fighter of the year
When we discuss "Fight of the Year" candidates we all seem to over-look Thailand's Amnat Ruenroeng (13-0, 5) who has really emerged in 2014 as one of the most talented and most criminally under-rated fighters on the planet.
Amnat began 2014 as a fighter with an unbeaten 11-0 record though had never fought above fringe regional level. Already this year however he has claimed the IBF Flyweight title, with a solid victory over Filipino veteran Rocky Fuentes, and defended it against the previously unbeaten Kazuto Ioka. Usually if a fighter beats guys like Fuentes and Ioka in back-to-back fights they rightfully get raved about but Amnat hasn't had that level of respect as of yet.
The Thai will be looking to score his 3rd win of the year when he returns on September 10th and battles heavy hitting Puerto Rican McWilliams Arroyo (15-1, 13), the mandatory challenger to Amnat's IBF title. A win here for Amnat should make him a cert for any short lists for fighter of the year, or at very last break out fighter of the year. Like his previous 2 bouts this year a win for Amnat is not a given.
The champion is a very highly skilled fighter with an unusual calmness in the ring. Nothing seems to fluster him, nothing appears to worry him and like so many other extremely talented fighters he appears to find that extra half a second as and when he needs it. This in many ways makes his counter punching so beautiful as he rides shots, narrowly avoids then blocks with ease before firing back counters on the ropes. It's a thing of beauty and adds a brilliant dimension to a fighter who is, at his best, a boxer-mover who lands light but sharp shots then moves away before repeating the sharp and accurate shots that often discourage opponents.
Whilst Amnat is a pure boxer with a solid game inside and outside Arroyo is more of a puncher-boxer. He can box but his power is his selling point and he really does have lights out power, as he showed in style against Filipino Froilan Saludar who took just 1 clean punch but was left gazing at the lights unaware he was even in a boxing ring. When you have that sort of power your boxing skills can often decline and that appears to have been the case with Arroyo who was being out boxed until he caught Saludar with a bomb as Saludar dropped his hands slightly and opened the door for the Puerto Rican. His boxing skills are there though we doubt just how much of those skills are still there and haven't been eroded over the last few years which have combined inactivity with a lack of rounds.
Another thing to note going into this bout is that Arroyo won;t just be competing with Amnat but also the conditions in Thailand which are never welcoming to a visiting fighter, on fact Thailand is the worst place to go as a visitor due to the way they stage fights. They are often out doors, in extreme heat, high humidity and in the middle of the day. Whilst not all fights are outdoors even the indoor ones seem to be held in hot and humid conditions, conditions not many fighters are used to. Of course like any country the officials also seem to give the home fighter the benefit of the doubt in close rounds and we've seen some astonishing result come out of Thailand in recent years that have really beggared belief, such as the Jonathan Taconing/Kompaak Porpramook bout or the Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep/Takuya Kogawa fight both of which really should have gone to the visiting fighter. We are expecting better judging here but we do expect Amnat to get the benefit in any sort of a close round.
Saying that however we actually don't think this is a hugely tough bout for Amnat to win a decision in. In fact Amnat's biggest issue will be whether or not he can complete the 12 rounds. If Arroyo can tag Amnat really clean then there is every chance of the title going back to Puerto Rico though we tend to feel that if Amnat if at 90% of his best then that's not going to happen. Instead Amnat is going to get into range, land his shots and get out of there before Arroyo can react. Round after round we will see Amnat piling up the points on the move and he makes Arroyo look like a clumsy operator. Every so often we will see Amnat on the ropes though we don't see him getting caught clean too often and if he is we think he'll ride the shots well to take the sting out of the shots. It is, afterall, what he does so well in between the ropes.
We tend to feel that Arroyo is dangerous enough to keep this exciting and to keep Amnat on his toes, but not busy enough to really test the Thai, barring a lucky bomb and a possible follow up. So far however Amnat's only real struggle has been against the intense pressure and work of Fuentes, two things we don't expect to see from Arroyo.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kiatkreerin.com)
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.