Although often described as a division with no depth the Minimumweight division is current a really interesting one, with several notable fighters all in or around world level. One of these is WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (52-0, 18), who notched his 52nd straight win last November, as he defeated Mektison Marganti in a stay busy bout. Not only is Wanheng the holder of a perfect 52 fight winning record, but he is also the longest reigning active male world champion, having held the title for over 4 years and making 10 defenses.
In the coming days Wanheng will seek his 11th defense of the title, as he takes on former WBO champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6-6, 7) in what will be a second meeting between the two men.
These two first fought in 2017, when Fukuhara gave Wanheng a serious test and could well have got the decision had the bout not been held in Thailand. Now, more than a year later, Fukuhara returns for a second shot at the Thai champion.
Aged 33 Wanheng is an old man for the smaller weight classes, especially when you consider he has had over 50 bouts, more than 415 professional rounds and has been a professional for more than 12 years. Despite that he hasn't taken much damage and he is a defensively responsible fighter, with a tight guard and a good boxing brain.
Not only is Wanheng defensively smart but he's also offensively smart too. He's not a big puncher, but he's an accurate, clean puncher. He rarely throws when he's out of position or off balance and fires in good sharp counters, applies good pressure behind his guard and unleashes some really impressive combinations. Whilst a smart fighter he doesn't have much in terms of power, he's not the hardest worker, or the quickest out there, and he gets older we suspect that he will become slower and will throw less and less.
Aged 29 Fukuhara is the much younger fighter. Like Wanehng he is a veteran, with more than 10 years of professional experience and over 200 rounds of action. Despite also being a veteran he is stylistically very different to the Thai, relying on work rate, aggression and desire rather than ring IQ and clean punching. Technically he is rather limited, but his will to win is really impressive.
Fukuhara's has had an up and down career. In terms of the highs he reached the final of the 2009 Rookie of the Year, won the Japanese national title in 2015 and the WBO title in 2017. As for lows he has lost most of his notable bouts, including a loss in 2013 to the then debuting Takuma Inoue and losses in 2017 to Ryuya Yamanaka and Menayothin.
We don't think Wanheng will extend his winning record for too much longer. He has been pushed close numerous times in recent bouts, but we do suspect that he will be protected by the conditions and officiating in Thailand for as long as he can be. We think that will play a major role here, in what we're expecting will be a razor close bout, but one which again sees the champion edging the bout in the eyes of the judges.
Fukuhara will set a high work rate, he knows he has too, but unless he can really hurt Wanheng he doesn't have much of a chance of getting the decision in the Land of Smiles and instead we're expecting a close judges decision to the Thai.
The Minimumweight division is one of the most over-looked at the moment, yet has a number of interesting match ups coming up between now and the end of 2017. One of those is a WBC world title fight which will see long term unbeaten Thai Wanheng Menayothin (48-0, 17) risking his title, and unbeaten record, against former WBO and JBC champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-5-6, 7). For Wanheng the bout sees him potentially tying his record with that Rocky Marciano whilst the Japanese visitor will be hoping to become a 2-time champion, and create a little bit of history.
For the champion the bout will see him seeking his 8th defense, and look to continue a title reign that began back in November 2014 when he stopped Mexican Oswaldo Novoa. Since winning the title Wanheng has won 12 bouts in a row, including victories over Jeffrey Galero, Young Gil Bae, Go Odaira, Saul Juarez and Melvin Jerusalem. In the ring Wanheng is a defensively intelligent pressure fighter, who applied constant pressure and looks to out work and grind down opponents. His lack of power is notable, but he certainly his a lot hard than his record suggests and in his 9 world title fights he has scored 4 stoppages.
With Wanheng closing in on the 50-0 record of Floyd Mayweather Jr this is a really credible test for the champion. At 32 he is getting on for a Minimumweight and with 382 rounds under his belt he has certainly got miles on the clock. He has negated damage in many of his fights, due to his solid defense, but was cut a couple of fights ago by the head of Omari Kimweri, and it could be that his body is maybe starting to feel it's age, something that also seemed to be the case in January's win over Melvin Jerusalem.
The Japanese challenger has had a strange career. After winning his first 4 bouts he quickly slipped to 5-1-2 and really saw his momentum slow, despite reaching the 2009 Rookie of the Year final. Another winning run followed before a surprise stoppage loss to Hiroyuki Otsuka, and a draw with Koji Itagaki. In 2013 Fukuhara again saw his career falter with losses to Yu Kimura and Takuma Inoue, and by the start of 2015 Fukuhara had fallen to 13-4-5 (4) with his career seemingly going no where. Since then however he has gone an impressive 6-1-1 with with notable wins over Hiroya Yamamoto, Takumi Sakai, Genki Hanai and Moises Calleros, and a draw with Fahlan Sakrreerin Jr. The win over Yamamoto saw Fukuhara claim the Japanese title and the one over Calleros saw him become the WBO champion.
The problem for Fukuhara is that whilst he has had an impressive few years, he's not actually shown himself to be that talented. He's gotten far on toughness, energy and desire rather than skills, power and slickness. He's a handful for many, given that he has a never say die attitude and always looks to have have a fight, but against truly world class fighters it's hard to see what he has to offer. This was clear when he was widely beaten by a then debuting Takuma Inoue and is likely to be seen again here against the very talented Wanheng.
Whilst Fukuhara is travelling with hunger, and the chance to become the first Japanese fighter to claim a world title on Thai soil, it's hard to see him really testing Wanheng. Fukuhara will come to fight but we believe the sharper, smoother and tighter boxing of Wanheng will be too much for the challenger, who we think will start will be take a methodical beating in the later rounds, and potentially be stopped in the championship rounds.
The Minimumweight division is one that is currently dominated by Asian fighters, with all 4 major world titles being held by Asian's. This coming Sunday won't see that changing, but could potentially see a new champion being crowned, as WBO Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7) defends his title against fellow Japanese fighter Ryuya Yamanaka (14-2, 4). For the champion this will be his first defense of the title whilst Yamanaka will be getting his first world title fight, as he looks to become the next world champion from the Shinsei gym.
The 28 year old Fukuhara was a fighter who showed some early promise, reaching the 2009 Rookie of the Year final, but then his career stumbled. He went from 5-0-2 (1) to 12-4-3 (3) and suffered losses to Yu Kimura and Takuma Inoue, who was making his debut. Since that poor run we have however seen Fukuhara turn his career around, with a 7-0-3 (4) run in his last 10. That run has seen him fight to a draw with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in Thailand, defeat Hiroya Yamamoto for the Japanese title, over-come Takumi Sakae and Genki Hanai in title defenses, get a technical draw against Shin Ono and beat Moises Calleros for the “interim” WBO world title.
The run of Fukuhara's has been genuinely impressive and has seen him show impressive mental strength. In the ring he's got a nice jab and solid work rate, but does lack power and he has a very weak looking left hand, which is an issue given he's a southpaw, and a pretty weak defense. When he throws the left hand he often leaves him open to counters, and can be seen to rely on his chin a bit too much during those moments. Despite there being a lot of flaws Fukuhara has proven to be a tough man to beat in recent years with his willingness to take one to land one being part of what makes him so hard to beat. It's also worth noting that he is a hero in Kumamoto, and the crowd will be behind him every time he fights there, where he has grown a notable local following.
Whilst the champion is pretty unknown in the west it's fair to say that Yamanaka is a total unknown outside of Japan, and in fairness is pretty unknown outside of Hyogo. He turned professional in 2012 and has regularly fought in Kobe on shows promoted by his gym Shinsei. He's ventured out a few times, but not too often. During his career he has suffered a couple of losses, with one of those being an early career stoppage to Kenta Shimizu and the other being a decision loss to Filipino journeyman Roque Lauro in 2014. Coming in to this bout however he is riding a 7 fight winning run, including wins over Takahiro Murai, Ronelle Ferreras and most notably Merlito Sabillo, a win that saw Yamanaka claim the OPBF title.
In the win over Sabillo we saw the ability of Yamanaka shine as he boxed and moved, using his speed and movement to make the former world champion look slow, clumsy and like a novice at times. It was this version of Yamanaka that showed the talent to become a world champion down the line, and earned him this shot, but there is a difference between fighting a shop worn, former champion like Sabillo, and a current champion like, Fukuhara.
Footage of the two suggests that Yamanaka is the better boxer. He's the more natural talent of the two. But we can't help but feel that that natural talent will be swamped by Fukuhara, who will simply wear down the challenger. We can certainly see Yamanaka boxing and moving to a decision victory, but we suspect the champion will retain with a late stoppage.
On December 6th 2013 the boxing world saw a notable card take place at the Kokugikan in Tokyo. The show saw Akira Yaegashi retain the WBC Flyweight title, with a decision win over Edgar Sosa, Naoya Inoue claim the OPBF Light Flyweight title with a 5th round TKO against Jerson Mancio, Ryosuke Iwasa claiming the OPBF Bantamweight title with a 5th round TKO against Hiroki Shiino and Ryota Murata claim his second win, stopping Dave Peterson in 8 rounds.
That card also featured the debut of 17 year old super prospect Takuma Inoue, who took a clear win over Tatsuya Fukuhara (now 18-4-6, 7). The loss for Fukuhara could have been a career ending humiliation, being out pointed by a debuting teen. Instead that bout was a catalyst for Fukuhara to turn his career career around and since that loss he has gone 6-0-3 (3), claimed the Japanese Minimumweight title and, arguably, been the most improved fighter in Japan.
That improvement for Fukuhara has seen him open the door for a major bout on February 26th as he takes on Mexican foe Moises Calleros (25-6-1, 14) in a bout for the interim WBO Minimumweight title. A win for Fukuhara would see him extend his post Inoue run to a 10 fights without a loss, and would see him opening the door to a potential domestic showdown with WBO “regular” champion Katsunari Takayama later in the year.
In the ring Fukuhara took time to find his feet and despite winning his first 4 bouts there was some fortune in his early results. He did however get things going and in 2009 he fought in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing a decision to Takuya Mitamura, who later went on to claim the Japanese title and challenge for a WBA interim title himself. Following that loss Fukuhara experimented with different weight classes, though suffered set backs at Light Flyweight and Flyweight. Those set backs saw Fukuhara head back to 105lbs and he got his career back under-way with an upset win over Koki Ono. A short winning run was ended by back-to-back losses to Yu Kimura and the aforementioned loss to Inoue.
At the time Fukuhara was 12-4-3 (3) and no one would have bet on the success he was to have. Less than a year later however had proven his ability by fighting to a draw in Thailand with Faglan Sakkreerin Jr. In late 2015, less than 2 years after the loss to Inoue, Fukuhara claimed the Japanese Minimumweight title by out pointing Hiroya Yamamoto and built on that win with defenses of the title against the unbeaten pairing of Takumi Sake and Genki Hanai as well as a technical draw against Shin Ono.
In the ring Fukuhara is a hard working southpaw with under-rated skills, a genuine toughness and a great engine. He might not scream world class in any department but with his continual improvement and very over-looked abilities he is a real talent with the potential to win genuine world titles in the years to come. He has proven he can box on the front foot or the back foot, he's accurate and the bout with Fahlan proved he has no fear of facing top quality opponents, even in their back yard.
Whilst Fukuhara is one of the most improved fighters over the last few years he is a relative unknown outside of his homeland. The same too can be said for Calleros, who debuted in 2008 and didn't face anyone of nay note until March 2012. That bout saw Calleros suffer a split decision to Julian Yedras, and resulted in Calleros' record falling to 17-4-1 (13). Since then he has faced fighters of more notoriety, losing a decision in 2013 to Francisco Rodriguez Jr, and scoring a win last year over Mario Rodriguez.
In the footage of Calleros he looks like a genuine trier, who comes to fight and will always look to walk down his opponents. His bout with Francisco Rodriguez Jr was a toe-to-toe war fought in a phone booth at times. Whilst it was fun to watch it did show that Calleros isn't the big puncher that his record suggests, and also suggested that his attacks were wide, wild and relatively predictable. Despite the flaws he never looked scared of taking one to land one and looked like the sort of fighter who would make for a FOTY contender with a warrior like Takayama. He did however look more polished in the bout against Mario Rodriguez, with an inexhaustible energy reserve and a style that saw him holding a high tempo through out and forcing Rodriguez on to the back foot through the later stages.
Although Calleros has an incredible engine and a fun style it does seem like he has has only fought as a Minimumweight once in the last 6 years and has never fought outside of Mexico, two things that could cost him here.
With Calleros' pressure style and Fukuhara's adaptability we're expecting this to be a sensational fight. Calleros will be on the Kumamoto man from the off, and how Fukuhara deals with that pressure will be the key to the fight. We suspect, with the crowd behind him, Fukuhara will do just enough to eek out a narrow decision here, and secure himself a showdown with Takayama in the summer. If however Calleros wins we'll be incredibly excited about a Takayama Vs Calleros bout.
Although it's unfair in some ways we are disappointed to learn that the bout is likely to only be available to fans in Kumamoto. With our expectations of the bout being a war it's a shame that only such a small number of fight fans will be able to watch the contest.
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.