The Philippines, seemingly more than anywhere else, has world champions who defend on the road fight after fight. We don't mean world champions who set up a boxing home away from home, but actually get out their passport and head all over the place to fight their world level bouts. The latest of those is WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (19-3, 10), who won the belt in Japan, made his first defense in Japan and will be in action this coming weekend in Puerto Rico, to defend against Wilfredo Mendez (13-1, 5).
The lack of big money in the Philippines has seen fighters like Saludar, John Riel Casimero and Jerwin Ancajas fighting on the road as champions, and in a way it makes their reigns a little more interesting than those fighters who remain a small, but local, star. It obviously increases the risk of them losing a dodgy decision, but also increases their reputation as real world champions, willing to fight around the world.
For fans who have seen Saludar the fear of being robbed on the scorecards does not appear to be a fear that he has. The hard hitting Pinoy he has travelled for 3 fights in the last 4 years, all against men fighting in their residency. In the first of those, in Nagoya against Kosei Tanaka, he almost took Tanaka out early, before being undone by a brutal body shot whilst in the lead. The second saw him dethrone Ryuya Yamanaka in Kobe, with a clear decision, before going to Tokyo to defend against Masataka Taniguchi, and clearly defeat the talented Taniguchi. He refuses to fight like a man who believes he's going to be robbed, and instead he tries to take the fight by the scruff of the neck, combining vicious power, with under-rated technical skills, a high work rate and a real self confidence.
Prior to turning professional Saludar was a highly regarded amateur, who had defeated the likes of Charlie Edwards and Mark Anthony Barriga, and gave Amnat Ruenroeng a really tough bout, in Thailand. Those amateur fundamentals gave Saludar a great base to work on and fantastic experience on the road. His naturally heavy hands make him a nightmare in the ring and whilst he has lost a few times one of those defeats came very early, when he bust his hand, another came to Tanaka, when Tanaka pulled out one of the best shots of his career, whilst the other came to Toto Landero, who went on to give Knockout CP Freshmart a very tough test.
Whilst Saludar is a well regarded name in the sport Mendez really isn't, at least not outside of Latin America. The once beaten 22 year old has fought all 14 pro bouts in the America's, fighting mostly in his native Puerto Rico and on the frankly appalling Dominican boxing scene, with a solitary fight in Colombia. For this coming fight he is at home, with it being his 6th fight in Puerto Rico, where he is currently 5-0 (2). For Mendez this is a huge step up, and comes after multiple fights with Robert Paradero have fallen through. To date his competition has lacked in terms of quality. His sole loss came in the Dominican Republic to Leyman Benavides, a Nicaraguan who had been stopped by Gilberto Parra just 4 months earlier, whilst his best win was a clear one over Janiel Rivera, which saw one judge mis-identity the fighters resulting in a very peculiar split decision. That win over Rivera saw Mendez stepping up to the plate and shining, but Rivera is a long way removed from Saludar.
Stylistically Mendez is a solid looking fighter, who knows how to use the ring, counter and lay traps. He's a smart fighter, who really can box wonderfully on the back foot. Sadly for all the nice touches he has in terms of counters, timing and distance control he does seem to slap his shots, fight negatively and lacks real power. He's skilled, but doesn't appear to really turn his weight into his power shots and instead looks like he slaps a lot. It also appears that his defensive skills look good because of the limited level of competition that he's facing.
Coming into this bout we expect the style of Mendez to appease Saludar. To beat Saludar you can't back off him, you can't let him take the initiative. If that happens he tends to be too good, and builds his confidence through the fight. If Mendez thinks he can win on the ropes, and soaking up pressure from Saludar we suspect he's wrong, very wrong. Sitting on the ropes and letting Saludar throw his heavy, clean, hurtful shots will break a fighter down, and we suspect Mendez gets broken down here.
Mendez looks like he's tough and brave, but the pressure of Saludar will simply be too much over 12 rounds.
Prediction - TKO9 Saludar
The Minmumweight division has continued to go under-the-radar in recent years despite some amazing fighters, and fights, down at 105lbs. On February 26th we'll get another potentially sensational fight as Vic Saludar (18-3, 10) defends the WBO title against Japanese challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-2, 7), in what has the potential to be a FOTY contender.
The 28 year old Saludar claimed the title last year, when he defeated Ryuya Yamanaka in an underrated 12 round bout back in July, exactly 5 years after his debut. That was his second world title fight, after suffering a KO loss to Kosei Tanaka back at the end of 2015. In both bouts the Filipino showed how good he was, and showed that he was a strong, powerful, hard hitting fighter with real ambition. He was technically the most rounded fighter, but more technical than many give his credit for. He was accurate, exciting, and very determined.
After turning professional in 2013 Saludar had been tipped for big things. His career took a hit early however when he pulled out of his third bout, suffering a fractured hand against Powell Balaba just 4 months after his debut.He would rebuild to get the shot at Tanaka and drop Tanaka before being stopped himself, whilst well up on the scorecards. He would then begin a charge towards a second world title fight. That charge hit a bump when he lost to Toto Landero, but he bounced back from that defeat and ended up defeating Yamanaka, and sadly forcing Yamanaka to retire following a small brain bleed.
Although his record is 18-3 (10) Saludar is a huge puncher. He dropped Tanaka, he dropped and badly hurt Yamanaka. He's not the type of guy you choose to get into a war with, and instead you attempt to outbox him, take advantage of his technical flaws and win rounds, hoping to make the most of his mistakes. He's perhaps not the toughest fighter out there, but it did take a beauty of a body punch from Tanaka to stop him, but he is rather rugged.
Taniguchi also has a misleading record, with 2 losses in his first 13 fights. He could however be 13-0 (7) and nobody would have criticised the decisions, with both of his losses coming in razor thin majority decisions. Not only have they come by the narrowest of margins, but they have also come at a very high level. His first loss was to the then 12-0 Reiya Konishi in a Japanese title fight, whilst the second was to the then OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura, who was 11-0. Those losses have come to fighters who are going to be in the world title mix for years to come.
Taniguchi turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi and both were expected to be on a similar career trajectory, with Watanabe matching them on the same shows early in their careers. Since then Kyoguchi has become one of the faces of Japanese boxing, becoming a 2-weight champion. Taniguchi hasn't quite had the same success, suffering his two losses and also suffering some injuries, that have slowed his rise. He did however, claim his first title last year, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in November in Thailand to open up this fight.
Taniguchi is a skilled boxer-puncher, with a good output, a real toughness and an exciting style that should make for a thrilling clash with Saludar. He's also a fighter who has solid power, a determined mentality and nice variety to his punches. We'd go as far as to say that Taniguchi is the better pure boxer, whilst Saludar is the bigger single puncher. Taniguchi is however a southpaw, and that may prove to be a key factor.
We're expecting a highly skilled chess match with knights removed, and shotguns replacing them. We can't help but imagine both will be unloading bombs, looking to take the other out. We believe the better skills of Taniguchi will prove to be a key for him, but Saludar will certainly be able to hurt the challenger if he lands cleanly, and there will always be a real sense of danger when he connects.
We see this being a close and competitive bout, but we do see Taniguchi doing enough to take the take in a clear, but very hard fought, decision.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
The month of July is a quite busy month for boxing, with so many great matches taking place worldwide. One of those is Ryuya Yamanaka, the reigning WBO World Minimumweight champion, defending against Vic Saludar, in Japan on July 13.
Ryuya Yamanaka (16-2/5 KOs) took up boxing at a very young age, under the tutelage of, 3 division world champion, Hozumi Hasegawa. His first pro-fight took place in 2012, when he was just 17 years old. Within the next 4 years, he garnered 12 wins and 2 losses, before he faced, top Philippino boxer, Merlito Sabillo (25-3*) for the vacant OPBF Minimumweight title. Sabillo, a former Philippines, OPBF and WBO world champion, had finished 12 of his 25 wins via KO whereas Ryuya had only 3 under his belt. The Japanese fighter was clearly the underdog in this bout, with less in-ring experience and KO power. However, Yamanaka shocked everyone with his performance that day, making the champion look like an amateur. His speed and precision earned him the unanimous decision and his first major title. In less than a year later, his big moment came as he was set to fight Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4*) on August of 2017 at the Shiroyama Sky Dome for the WBO World Minimumweight championship. Fukuhara, who is still ranked amongst the top Minimumweight competitors in the world, went through a war with Yamanaka, with both men giving everything they got during this title bout. In the end, Yamanaka’s hand was raised once again in victory, winning the World title at the age of 22. On March of this year, he successfully made his first title defense against Mexican standout Moises Calleros (28-7*). Yamanaka’s skills proved to be too much for Calleros, as he made him retire in the 8th round.
Vic Saludar (17-3/10 KOs) currently ranked #3 by the WBO, has been slowingly climbing up the rankings in order to get a crack at the gold. The Philippino was 11-1 when he faced the undefeated world champion Kosei Tanaka back on December of 2015. Despite losing the match, he proved that he is a worthy contender as he took Tanaka to the limit, even knocking him down in the 5th round. In 2016 he made a strong comeback, after he beat Lito Dante (11-5*) to win the WBO Oriental Minimumweight title. Since then, Saludar has been gaining momentum and finally earned another chance at the new champion.
The Japanese champion has come face to face with much tougher opponents during his previous encounters. This fight is just another stepping stone for him towards a possible future unification match. For Saludar, this is do or die time. He already missed his first shot, he does not want to fail again, since chances like these don’t come very often.
Prediction: Yamanaka is the favourite in this one. Even though he may not be the knock out artist Saludar is, he has been matched with much better competition, than the challenger, in the past and he always manages to come out on top. His technique and agility will be his biggest assets here. However, Saludar is not to be taken lightly, if his bout with Tanaka is any indication. One mistake by Ryuya and we could be looking at a new champion.
*The boxer’s record before the fight.
Over the past few years we have seen numerous Japanese youngsters fight on the fast track to the top. The quickest of those has been Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2), who set a Japanese record earlier this year when he won world title in just his 5th bout. On December 31st Tanaka looks to make the first defense of his title, the WBO Minimumweight title, as he takes on former Filipino amateur standout Vic Saludar (11-1, 9), who will be fighting in his first world title bout.
Tanaka's rise through the ranks really has been meteoric. He debuted in November 2013 and beat the then world ranked Oscar Raknafa, that was followed up by another victory over a world ranked fighter, Ronelle Ferreras. Those wins helped the then teenage Tanaka climb into the world rankings though for many his first eye opening performance actually came against Crison Omayao, who was stopped in just 115 seconds.
Tanaka's rise was fast through his first 3 bouts but has since gone super sonic with the talented youngster claiming the OPBF Minimumweight title in October 2014, with an exceptional 10th round TKO win over Ryuji Hara. That win prepared Tanaka for his world title bout, which came this past May against Julian Yedras, who was clearly beaten over 12 rounds, despite a disgustingly close card from Luis Ruiz.
In the ring the 20 year old Japanese fighter is a natural. He's blessed with insane speed in both his hands and feet, clever defensive movements and some of the most amazing combinations in the sport. He does seem to lack true KO power but he's certainly still a relative baby and is likely to grow into his strength in the coming years, when that happens he'll have added power to his skills, speed and movement which are all exceptional.
Despite only have 5 fights of professional experience Tanaka has accrued 37 rounds, he has gone 12 rounds at a good pace and 10 rounds at an exceptional pace. There is some question marks on his stamina in soma quarters but others, such as ourselves, feel he has the ability to 12 fast rounds if needed and that he has slowed down at times to try things out rather than due to exhaustion.
Whilst Tanaka has been on the fast track from the get-go it's fair to say that his opponent, Saludar, has also been sped along being given this world title opportunity in just his 13th professional bout and after just 29 months as a professional fighter. He debuted back in July 2013, with a blow out win against Juanito Hondante, in a bout that lasted just 52 seconds.
Since his debut Saludar has looked like a confident fighter with very fast and heavy hands. Dubbed “Vicious” his punching power and aggressive style certainly sees him living up to his nickname. Sadly at times he has however shown a lack of control and his win over Michael Kaibigan was seemingly scored with a very cheap shot on a then downed Kaibigan, that could easily have cost him a DQ loss. Whilst he is vicious he is also wild, offensively wreckless and defensively open, meaning that a skilled fighter could well counter him and really make him pay for his free swinging offense.
One thing that also needs to be noted about Saludar is that he already has a stoppage loss on his record. That occurred in just his 3rd bout when he was forced to retire against Powell Balaba, after he fractured his hand. Prior to his retirement in that bout he had dropped Balaba and it seems likely that he would have won the contest had it not been for the injury.
Coming in tot his one we do favour Tanaka, however it's likely we will see him given a serious chin check on route to winning. The difference is the defensive ability, with Tanaka having the better all round defense, which will likely allow the champion to see out the early storm before breaking down the challenger in the later rounds.
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.