Back in September we had expected to turn our attention to Madison Square Garden Theater for an excellent Super Bantamweight world title bout, pitting unified champion Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 19) against mandatory challenger Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6). Sadly in the build up the champion was injured and the bout was forced to be delayed, and rescheduled. With it being eventually pushed back to late January. Despite the delay we are now on course for the brilliant looking match up.
The 29 year old champion, who has unified the WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight titles will be making his first defense of the IBF belt and his fifth defense of the WBA crown, the first as the super champion. For Akhmadaliev, who is mandatory for the WBA title, the bout will be his first at world level as he looks to join a select few to win a world title in just his 8th professional bout.
Roman has become one of the sports most interesting champions. He won the title in 2017, stopping Shun Kubo, and announcing himself on the world stage. Prior to that win he had been knocking on the door, with wins over the likes of Adam Lopez, Christopher Martin and Christian Esquivel though it's been since winning the title that he has really impressed. After winning the belt in Japan, stopping Kubo, he returned and beat Ryo Matsumoto before beating Mosies Flores and Gavin McDonnell. Those wins built momentum, and that momentum lead to a unification bout with the then IBF champion TJ Doheny this past April. That bout was something special, with Roman dropping Doheny twice, but having the Irish-Australian warrior coming back at him with real drive and vigour. Over 12 rounds Roman did enough to win the bout and unify the belts.
After 2 losses in his first 11 bouts Roman could have been written off, though he has battled back hard, winning 19 in a row, unifying titles, taking chances and becoming the star of Thompson Boxing. The way he has turned his career around has been amazing and the fact he's travelled to Japan for 2 of those wins, and has taken 5 unbeaten records in his last 7 fights shows he isn't scared of a challenge. What Roman does really well is work. His output is excellent, he's technically solid with his shots, and despite throwing a lot he doesn't waste many. They aren't always the sharpest, or the hardest, but they are solid shots, and his engine is excellent. He combines that energy with a really gritty toughness, and although he can be hurt he grits it out, recovers quickly and comes back. If a fighter hurts him it really does seem like they should go all out to take him down, rather than give him a chance to clear the cobwebs.
Although Roman was a good amateur, which is something we don't hear much about strangely, Akhmadaliev was a sensational amateur. The Uzbek was a World Amateur Champion silver medal winner, an Olympic bronze medal winner a multi-time medal winner on the Asian and Uzbek scenes and recorded around 300 amateur wins. It's that amateur foundation that has seen him being fast-tracked through the professional ranks. In just his 4th professional contest he took on the then 15-6 Ramon Contreras for the WBA Inter-Continental title, then defended it against the world ranked IsaacZarate, to earn the mandatory position towards the end of last year. By that point he had been a professional for around 8 months! To tick over earlier this year he destroyed former world title challenger Carlos Carlson in 3 rounds.
Although a stellar amateur Akhmadaliev doesn't always fight like an amateur, in fact from the off he had a more professional style, with an aggressive mentality and almost a seek and destroy gameplan. He is constantly on the front foot, looking to break opponents down and although a touch reckless he is smart with his aggression.He's a fighter who seems to truly believe he's special, and not just because his team tell him he is. For a Super Bantamweight he's a solid puncher, he's exciting, but he is stepping up massively, from the likes of Isaac Zarate to Daniel Roman.
We'd love to see Akhmadaliev win here, setting his stall out as one of the kings of the Super Bantamweight divisions this quickly after his debut, and at just 25 years old. Sadly however we do feel it's too much too soon, and his lack of experience over the longer distance will be an issue. He's certainly has a chance against Roman, and if he's as good as he believes it's a really good chance, but we suspect he comes up short here against a man who remains one of boxing's most under-rated world champions. Worst yet for the Uzbek, we see him being ground down by Roman's pressure in the later stages, suffering a late TKO loss in a painful and gruelling defeat
Prediction- TKO11 Roman
On December 23rd Japan's Ryota Murata (15-2, 12) will look to make his first defense of the WBA Middleweight title, as he takes on hard hitting Canadian foe Steven Butler (28-1-1, 24). The bout will be the main event of a triple header in Yokohama and is expected to draw in an immense TV audience in Japan, as well as a solid audience from external markets, with the bout being shown around the world. For Murata the bout is a chance to claim a notable win and move towards some huge bouts in 2020, with talk of potential bouts against the likes of Saul Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford in the near future. As for Butler the bout is a huge opportunity to become a star, and go from contender to champion.
Of the two men it's Murata who is the star. What many don't realise is just how much of a star he is in Japan. He is probably the only man with a bigger fan base in the country than Naoya Inoue. We all know Inoue is a star, and the fact Murata matches him shows what a draw he is. He's a former amateur standout, who famously won a gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 and also won a silver medal at the World Amateur Championships in 2011. He is the first Japanese fighter to go from winning Olimpic gold to winning a world title as a professional, and he is also only the second ever Japanese fighter to win a world title at Middleweight, following Shinji Takehara.
For those who haven't haven't seen much of Murata, he is technically quite basic. He's a a come forward pressure fighter who marches forward behind a tight guard, with a very powerful jab and works well on the inside. At times however he is inconsistent. His 2018 loss to Rob Brant saw him slowly following Brant around the ring, never getting out of second gear, never letting his hands go with any consistency and never fully committing to his strengths. He tried to box the boxer, and he made to look foolish. In their rematch however he used his jab, his strength and his power and battered Brant to the point the referee needed to step in. It was only a glimpse of what Murata can do, but it did show that Murata can look good when he's aggressive. He takes a shot well, he's strong, he's powerful and when he fights to his potential he's really tough to beat. It's just a shame we rarely see him fighting at his best. At 33 years old he now needs to fight to his potential, as any slip is probably going to kill any hope of getting a super fight.
At 24 years old Butler is a rising youngster, with a power punching style and strong promotional backing. Butler likes to fight on the outside, using his freakishly long arms and reach to keep the bout at range. Although he's not actually a big Middleweight he does look like a rangy Middleweight, though that may be exaggerated by the fact some of his opponents have been small, making him look bigger than he is. One thing that is really obvious from watching him, no matter who he was fighting, was the fact that whilst he is heavy handed his shots don't look particularly crisp. His power is more thudding, dead heavy hands, rather than explosive or elastic power. He often looks pushing his shots a touch. More worrying than his punching technique is the fact he really is open when he fires off shots. A top class fighter will counter him and time him, as Vitalii Kopylenko did earlier this year. As well as his openness he has also been hurt to the body, and Kopylenko actually dropped him with a body shot.
Despite the flaws with Butler he and his team are confident. They travelled to Japan more than 2 weeks before the fight, and Butler has certainly had time to acclimatise to the Japanese conditions, the change in time zone, and the weather. What that won't help with is the atmosphere, and here he is very much going into the dragons den. Whilst Japanese fans are typically respectful to visitors, they are still very behind their local hero's and they will be there cheering on Murata. For Butler to not have the crowd support could be an issue. Especially when he's having to fight off the pressure of Murata, who will be looking to get to his body and take away his legs.
Butler's power might look impressive on paper, but the reality is that this is a huge step up in class for him, and it's hard to imagine that power having the same effect on Murata that it's had on Butler's previous foes. Instead we see Butler starting with a lot of self belief, but having that self belief chipped away at. By the middle rounds Murata's body shots, stiff jab up top, and his pressure, will have destroyed the belief of Butler and will then destroy his dreams.
Prediction - TKO8 Murata
One of the big break outs from Asia in the last 12 months or so is Chinese fighter Can Xu (17-2, 3) who hadn't made his US debut until September 2018 but has since become a fighter with a genuine feel good story, an exciting style and a a charming personality. It's those traits that saw him win over fight fans in December, when he claimed the WBA "regular" Featherweight title with an upset win over Jesus M Rojas in Houston.
On November 23rd Xu returns to the US to make his second defense of the title, as he takes on the unbeaten Manny Robles III (18-0, 8) in what looks set to be a very fun fight between two men who aren't known for their power, but should be capable of putting on a real action fight.
In January the then 24 year old Xu, who is now 25, became the first Chinese man to win a world title by dethroning someone. Whilst the belt was only the "regular" title it was still an historical first for Chinese boxing. The fact he did it against a feared puncher like Rojas, and seemed to beat Rojas at his own game, of making fights a war, just just even more impressive. He pushed Rojas and down the stretch he out worked Rojas in one of the many forgotten thrillers of 2019. He would return to the ring 4 months later and stop former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo in China.
Although not a big puncher Xu is a real danger man. He's physically very strong, has an incredible work rate and toughness, and overwhelms opponents. His power isn't as much of an issue as some would suspect, though it is worth noting he has stopped 3 of his last 5 after failing to score a single stoppage in his first 14 bouts. Given his style we do expect him to grind people down in the later stages of 10 and 12 rounds, where he simply grinds the fight out of them.
Robles, like Xu, is 25 years old and isn't known for his power though that's not to say he can't punch, just that his power really isn't his strength. He's technically a cute boxer, with a nice jab, nice work on the inside and good pressure. His work rate is a lot less than that of Xu but it's also a lot more clearly defined. At his heart he looks to be a fighter who sometimes gets lost between two styles though, not sure if he should be a warrior on the inside or a boxer on the outside and this is certainly going to be an issue as he takes on fighters who know their own identity and fight their own styles.
Whilst the fighting identity of Robles is an issue he also doesn't appear to have the greatest of engines. Both of his completed 10 rounds have seen him only just manage to get over the line with split decisions. If you can't punch and your engine isn't great you're going to be in real trouble against Xu. Notably Robles has also only had 10 rounds of in ring action over the last year, with ring rust being another potential issue for the American challenger.
Although Robles is a talented fighter we see Xu just being too big, too strong and too hungry. Xu will drag Robles into his fight, and we have seen Robles dragged into a war before, and out work him. The bout will test Robles' toughness though we wouldn't be surprised at all if that toughness wasn't enough to see him survive the 12 rounds with the Chinese "Monster".
The pressure, work rate and strength of Xu will be too much, especially down the stretch.
Prediction- TKO11 Xu
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
The most anticipated fight in the Japanese boxing scene takes place on November 7th at the Saitama Super Arena, as Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire finally meet in the finals of the Bantamweight WBSS Tournament, for the WBA (Super), IBF & The Ring World championships as well as the prestigious Ali Trophy.
Naoya Inoue (18-0 / 16 KOs) is considered to be one of the best boxers that have come out of the land of the rising sun. His power, agility and precision have brought him immense success, while he is already ranked in the top 5 (P4P) list by The Ring, ESPN, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and others.
Before becoming a pro, he had a relatively short but rather accomplished amateur career, amassing 75 victories in 81 outings, with 48 of them being stoppages. Naoya won numerous (inter) high school tournaments, earned the gold at the 2011 Indonesia Presidential Cup and became the All Japan Light Flyweight champion, the same year. He also placed high at the Asian & World championships.
In 2012, the Monster finally made his pro debut and quickly made himself a guy to look out for. After going 3-0, in less than a year, he was set to face Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4) for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Taguchi, at 18-1, not only was he the more experienced of the two, but he was also a world ranked fighter. Inoue displayed much aggressiveness, taking control of the fight from the opening round. We saw a lot of his body work at display, which became a signature strategy as his career progressed. After 10 rounds of action, the youngster took a clear unanimous decision win (one of only the two times a fight of his has gone the distance) and the belt. Taguchi eventually went on to become the WBA, IBF & The Ring Light Flyweight World champion.
Just 4 months later, he fought Jerson Mancio (18-6) for the vacant OPBF Light Flyweight title. Naoya’s offense was too fast for the Filipino. He weakened his opponent with body shots, before the referee was forced to stop the fight in the 5th as Mancio was getting repeatedly tagged.
It wasn’t long after that Inoue received his first world title shot against Adrian Hernandez (30-5) on April of 2014. The 2 time WBC Light Flyweight World champion had marked 4 successful title defenses coming into this one. Both strong body punchers, Hernandez seemed to be gaining ground in the 4th round but Naoya quickly bounced back with some heavy shots of his own. It was an even match until the 6th when the Japanese Monster dropped El Confesor with a lighting fast right hook, who despite getting up, refused to continue. As a result, Inoue was declared the World champion at 21 years of age, in only his 6th professional bout.
Inoue defended the WBC title only once against Wittawas Basapean (34-11), before moving 2 weight classes up and within the same year, he challenged Omar Andres Narvaez (49-3) for the WBO Super Flyweight World championship. Narvaez, a 1999 Pan American Games winner, enjoyed a 7 year reign with the WBO Flyweight World title (16 defenses) prior to winning the Super Flyweight strap, which he had held for 4 years at the time (11 defenses). This was meant to be the Japanese fighter’s toughest test yet. Instead, it turned out to be one of his most dominant performances, as he dropped the veteran 4 times in just 2 rounds, sealing the deal with the liver shot, to become a 2 division World champion. That was the sole KO loss in Narvaez’s career.
The Monster remained champion for 3.5 years, reaching an impressive number of 7 title defenses. Warlito Parrenas (26-10), Karoon Jarupianlerd (44-9), Ricardo Rodriguez (16-7) and Antonio Nieves (19-2) were easy work for him, as neither of them were close to his level. David Carmona (21-6) did better, simply because Naoya injured his right hand during the match. Still, he managed to outclass his opponent, even put him down in the last round, earning his second and last decision victory. Yoan Boyeaux (41-6), another promising challenger, was on a 31 fight winning streak (close to 5 years unbeaten) and with 26 KOs under his belt. This also ended up being a one sided beatdown, with Inoue scoring 4 knockdowns in less than 8 minutes.
His best challenge was against the 2 time WBA Super Flyweight World champion Kohei Kono (33-12) on December of 2016. Kono came out strong in the beginning, connecting with some good punches, surprising Inoue for a while. Before you know it, this was turned into a wild brawl with both men bringing the heat and exciting the fans. All that changed in the 6th when Naoya landed a perfect left hook that floored the former champ and proceeded to finish him off a couple of seconds later, putting an end to this thrilling encounter.
In 2018, Inoue decided to enter the Bantamweight ranks and immediately challenged the WBA (Regular) title holder Jamie McDonnell (30-3). The Yorkshire native hadn’t suffered a single loss in a decade (22 fights). A former British, Commonwealth, European & IBF Bantamweight World champion, McDonnell was his best opponent since Narvaez. The Monster, true to his nickname, overwhelmed the champ with powerful shots, dropping him in the very 1st round. McDonnell managed to stand up again, but found himself trapped against the ropes as Naoya delivered a lethal flurry to get the KO.
After the fight, the Japanese superstar announced his participation at the WBSS and in October of last year, he was matched against the former WBA (Super) World champion Juan Carlos Payano (21-3). In what was voted as one of the best knockouts of 2018 (#1 by The Ring Magazine), Inoue nailed him with a straight right and put his lights out, 70 seconds into the fight.
He proceeded to ruin Emmanuel Rodriguez’s (19-1) perfect record, by knocking him down thrice in the 2nd round, securing the IBF World championship in the process. McDonnell, Payano and Rodriguez had never been stopped before in their entire career.
Naoya is finally a step away from fulfilling his destiny and winning the Ali Trophy, but in order to accomplish that, he has to go through one of the most successful fighters that has come out of the Philippines.
Nonito Donaire (40-5 / 26 KOs) has been a boxer for over 20 years. Beginning his amateur career back in the 90s, the Filipino had won 3 U.S. national championships, as well as the 1999 International Junior Olympics gold medal. His record stood at 68 wins and only 8 losses.
As a pro, he went 17-1 before challenging Vic Darchinyan (43-9) in 2007, for the IBF Flyweight World title. The Armenian was 28-0 at the time and had been the reigning champion since 2004, boasting 6 successful title defenses. Donaire established his dominance from the opening round, with the left punch being the difference maker. He kept hitting hard, giving Darchinyan the biggest test of his career. As he was trying to close the distance, Nonito connected with a thunderous counter left, right in the jaw, ending the champ’s undefeated reign. Donaire, not only captured the World title for the 1st time, but also the “Knockout of the year” and “Upset of the year” awards from The Ring Magazine.
The Filipino Flash defended his belt 3 times, against Luis Maldonado (36-15), in what was an one sided beatdown, Moruti Mthalane (38-2), due to a cut, and the then unbeaten Raul Martinez (30-4), who he dropped thrice. In all of his matches, Donaire had showcased incredible speed and timing, especially with his left hooks & uppercuts and of course his counter shots, which all have been proven to be his favourite weapons, even to this day.
His second reign began in 2009 when he won the interim WBA Super Flyweight title, after a hard hitting battle with the former champion Rafael Concepcion (18-8) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas. Nonito then made short work of Manuel Vargas (32-11) who seemed to be out of his depth. In the 3rd round, he was almost dancing around the former interim WBO Strawweight champion, while throwing punches, before finishing him off with a left uppercut. He also defended against Hernan Marquez (43-10) where once again, the left uppercut sealed the deal.
Donaire made his Bantamweight debut against Olympic Bronze medalist and former WBA (Regular) champion Volodymyr Sydorenko (22-3) back in 2010 and looked better than ever. He scored a knockdown in the 1st, courtesy of a right cross. Another one in the 3rd with a left hook and dropped him for the final time in the 4th with a right straight. By the end, Sydorenko’s face was a bloody mess, full of bruises after the all the punishment he had to endure. That was his only stoppage loss and last fight as well.
On February 19 of 2011, Nonito challenged 3 division World champion Fernando Montiel (54-6) for the WBC & WBO Bantamweight titles. Going into this one, both men were ranked amongst the top 10 boxers in the world. The Filipino Flash threw one of the best punches of his career, as he connected with a counter left in the 2nd round, dropping Cochulito hard to the canvas. Even though he got back up, he was clearly out on his feet and after 2 more shots, the referee stopped the fight.
His inaugural defense of the belts was against the aforementioned Omar Andres Narvaez (49-3) who was coming into this match with a perfect 35-0 record. Not the most exciting performance from Donaire, but he still managed to outbox the 2 division World champion and win a wide unanimous decision.
Moving up again a weight class, and in February of 2012, he fought the former WBO Super Bantamweight World champion Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (25-7) for the same vacant title. It was a rather close contest, during which Vasquez was dropped for the very first time of his career. When the final bell rang, Donaire was crowned a 4 division king.
Riding all that momentum, his next goal was to become the undisputed champion at Super Bantamweight. He first unified with the IBF champion Jeffrey Mathebula (27-5) in July of the same year. A much more impressive showing than his last 2 outings.
Next on the list was the WBC champion Toshiaki Nishioka (39-5). The WBC Diamond, The Ring and the lineal titles were also on the line. Nishioka played a defensive game, offering no significant offense of his own. Donaire utilized his patented left uppercut to score a knockdown in the 6th, but hurt his hand in the process, forcing him to rely only on his right for the rest of the match. The Japanese fighter finally put together some good combinations in the 9th, trapping Nonito against the ropes, but still got dropped with a counter straight right and shortly after the fight was stopped.
In what was basically an exhibition of his speed and power, Donaire defended his belts against fellow 4 division World champion Jorge Arce (64-8) in December, scoring 3 knockdowns and retiring another fighter once more.
His first loss in 12 years came on April of 2013, as he failed in his final unification fight with the WBA (Super) champion & 2 time Olympic Gold medallist Guillermo Rigondeaux (19-1). He still managed though to land a left hook in the 9th round, putting the Olympian down but not out.
The Filipino Flash bounced back with another stoppage victory over now 2 division champion Vic Darchinyan, before graduating to Featherweight and facing Simpiwe Vetyeka (30-4) for the WBA (Super) title. To no one’s surprise, the left hook did the trick again in the 4th, before the fight abruptly ended a round later, due to an accidental head clash. His reign however was short lived, as he lost the championship to Nicholas Walters (26-1) only 5 months later. Despite a strong start, Walters proved to be a much tougher opponent than expected, ending Donaire’s sole Featherweight title run, giving him the 1st (and thus far only) KO loss of his illustrious career.
In 2015, Nonito decided to return to Super Bantamweight and convincingly defeated William Prado (22-5), Anthony Settoul (24-8) and Cesar Juarez (24-7) in a fight of the year candidate, becoming the WBO champion for the 2nd time. He only defended the title once, against Zsolt Bedak (25-2), before losing it to the then undefeated Jessie Magdaleno (27-1).
He tried his luck at Featherweight one last time but, besides one minor victory, he came up short against Carl Frampton (26-2) when they met for the interim WBO championship in 2018. Even though he did throw the best punches and seemingly did more damage than his opponent, Frampton played a smart game, not engaging in any big exchanges, while scoring points which in the end earned him the strap.
Most recently, Donaire moved back to Bantamweight, in order to participate in the WBSS. In the opening round of the tournament, he clashed with the then undefeated WBA (Super) World champion Ryan Burnett (20-1). That was the Filipino’s first Bantamweight match since 2011. An injury, which seemed to have been caused from one of Donaire’s left punches to the body, rendered Burnett unable to continue, thus declaring him the new champion. Then earlier this year, the scheduled double title bout, with the WBO champion Zolani Tete (28-3), was cancelled, due to Tete suffering a shoulder injury. Instead, Nonito defended against last minute replacement Stephon Young (18-2), who he knocked out with a decapitating left hook. Now Donaire has the chance to once again be recognised as one of the best boxers in the world today, by winning his final fight this coming Thursday night in Japan. But this task is easier said than done.
It’s easy to be amazed by the careers of these men. Both have been in the ring with some of the best boxers from all over the world and have gathered countless championships. However this fight might be their most significant one yet. Their paths share many similarities but at the same time are completely opposite. For Inoue, it’s a chance to become a global star. For Donaire, it could very well be his last hurrah. After 20 years into the sport, the Filipino Flash has won world titles in 5 different weight classes. The experience factor is definitely on his side. Unfortunately, that also means that he’s not a young fighter anymore. His speed and stamina are no longer what they used to.
On the other hand, Inoue is at his prime. An unstoppable force that has rained havoc in every one of his opponents, with none of them being able to even score a single knockdown against him. Power, agility, precision, timing. Four attributes that once were used to describe Donaire. As that wasn’t enough, the Monster has looked even more spectacular in this division than in any other one he has been in. His entire Bantamweight run has been a total of 7 minutes and 21 seconds. That’s how long it took him to knockout 3 world champions. Whereas Donaire’s latest Bantamweight run can be described with only one word: Luck ! Burnett’s injury and Tete having to pull out of the tournament are the key reasons why he has made it to the finals. Still, this doesn’t mean he isn’t a dangerous opponent. His power is still here. His timing is still here. Inoue has to be careful of Donaire’s left hand and counter strikes, at all times. But, in the end of the day, the Japanese Monster seems to be in a completely different level from everyone else. For all of his achievements and accomplishments, make no mistake that, Donaire is coming in as the underdog.
So the final question is this: will Inoue demolish another world champion on his way to superstardom or can Donaire’s experience and luck bring him the big win one last time ? We will find out on November 7th, when these 2 warriors clash in Saitama !
The Light Heavyweight division is one with a lot of interesting match ups that could be made, and a very interesting title picture. Sadly though we do, even with the talent in the division, get the occasional bout that doesn't really appeal. On October 12th we get one such bout as WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11) takes on the unheralded Lenin Castillo (20-2-1, 15) from the Dominican Republic.
On paper this doesn't look awful, though in reality it is a step backwards for Bivol, and is a long way from the type of bouts fans had been hoping for from him. After a run of wins over top 15 type guys likes Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr the hope was for Bivol to face one of the division's top, top fighters. Bouts against the likes of Sergey Kovalek, Artur Beterbiev, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Gilberto Ramirez, Jesse Hard or Marcus Browne. As for Castillo it's a huge opportunity for him, and ever a good performance in a loss could enhance his profile going forward.
The 28 year old Bivol, who was born in Kyrgyzstan, has been on the radar of fans for a few years and he was aggressively matched early on in his career. Unlike many fighters he didn't need easy fights, and instead every one of his pro bouts has come against an opponent with a winning record. When he claimed the WBA "interim" title in May 2016, in just his 7th bout, it was little surprise and since then he has continued to pile up the wins. Sadly though as his competition has stepped up his entertainment level has dropped off.
Early in his career Bivol was an technically excellent, aggressive fighter who hunted the stoppage. He through a lot and although it seemed like he was one paced it looked like he wanted to entertain and he wanted to go for stoppages. That was incredibly obvious against Felipe Romero where he turned the screw in the final round despite being in a very clear lead. Sadly since then Bivol has shown more of a focus on winning rather than wowing, taking decision wins, instead of impressing. The focus towards taking the win has made his fights rather samey and dull, and the early excitement of his career has began to fade. Rapidly. He's still incredibly talented, with lovely technical ability, and a solid work rate, but his performances just look uninspired and boring.
To many Castillo will be a bit of an unknown, but the 31 year old has actually been around the pro since 2009 and is well travelled, with his international debut coming in 2011. Since his debut he has fought almost half of his career outside of the Dominican republic, with the vast majority of his non-domestic bouts taking place in the US. The most notable of those bouts was his 2018 bout with Marcus Browne, when he lost a clear decision to Browne but showed enough to prove himself as a very capable fighter. In the Browne fight Castillo looked like a very big and strong fighter, with solid power, dropping Browne in round 5, and nice hand speed. The one thing he seemed to lack was real ambition and work rate. When he let his shots fly he looked dangerous, but was far too lazy.
Given that this is a huge chance for Castillo we'd hope to see him have more ambition than he did against Browne. If he does than he has the size, power and physical strength to give Bivol real issues. Bivol has the edge in work rate, technique and speed, and we suspect that will be the key, but this is unlikely to be a walk in the park for the champion.
We expect to see Bivol using good in and out movement whilst landing with his quicker shots, but we really wouldn't be surprised at all if Castillo has moments against him, and takes more than just a round or two. Bivol's consistency should take him to a clear decision, but this is a legitimate test against a man who will have reach and height advantages and will ask questions of Bivol.
Prediction - UD12 Bivol
The Light Flyweight division has been one of the most interesting in recent years thanks to the great match ups we've been getting, and the consistency of those match ups. Unlike many other division's we've seen very few "stay" busy fights from the top guys in the division, and instead we've seen champions defending against top-10 challengers on a regular basis. Adding to that is the fact the top 10 Light Flyweights are all consistently good fighters and aren't there to make up the numbers.
This coming Tuesday we see another notable world title bout at 108lbs, as WBA "super" and Ring magazine champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (13-0, 9) defends his title against mandatory challenger Tetsuya Hisada (34-9-2, 20). The bout is not only an all-Japanese world title bout but more specifically a bout between two men from Osaka, despite the fact Kyoguchi is currently fighting out of Tokyo.
Coming in to the bout the clear favourite will be the champion. The unbeaten Kyoguchi, who fights out of the Watanabe gym, has been a professional since April 2016, and is already a 2-weight world champion, having won the IBF Minimumweight title before moving up to the Light Flyweight division. Early in his career he looked like an aggressive monster, applying intense pressure on his opponents and breaking them down with hard, accurate, shots on the inside. Since then he has developed a more rounded boxer-puncher style, though still has the ability to pressure on the inside. His power and body shots have proven to be his key tools, and were invaluable in his title win back in December over Hekkie Budler. Since winning the title he has defended it once, beating Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart this past June, whilst angling for unification bouts later in the year.
At just 25 years old Kyoguchi is seen as one of the true faces of the future for Japanese boxing, along with the likes of the more well known Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka and fellow Light Flyweight Kenshiro. He's proven to be fun to watch, but hasn't quite caught the imagination of the Japanese fans in the same was as Inoue, or shown the willingness to move through the weights the way Tanaka has. Also Kyoguchi's power, whilst still solid, hasn't really career up to world class. He was once 6-0 (6), but in world title bout he's 5-0 (2) and is 7-0 (3) since his destructive start to the professional ranks.
Whilst Kyoguchi is a rising star the same can't be said if Hisada, however the challenger has been on a rise of sorts the last few years. The 34 year old was once 8-4 in the pro ranks, and just 5 years ago he was 21-9-2 (11). Back then it seemed the best he would ever do would be to compete on the regional title scene. He has however turned his entire career around was a 13 fight winning run, claiming and defending the Japanese national title and scoring a number of solid wins. He avenged previous losses to Kenichi Horikawa, stopped former title challenger Atsushi Kakutani, and scored solid domestic wins over the likes of Shun Kosaka, Hayato Yamaguchi and Koki Ono. Of course those wins are well below world level, but they are still strong victories and evidence that Hisada has developed with age and is in great form.
In the ring Hisada is less of a destructive force than Kyoguchi, though has stopped 9 of his last 13, but is a fighter who hits solidly, knows his way around the ring and is a smart, crafty veteran. He's an aggressive fighter, who likes to apply pressure behind his footwork, has under-rated speed and movement, but is rather conservative in terms of output, realising it was more important to know when to punch rather than just punching.
When these two get in the ring we're expecting a great crowd reaction, sadly for Hisada that reaction won't help him cope with the pressure, power and physicality of Kyoguchi. Instead we suspect that Kyoguchi will get inside, will work the body of Hisada and will, eventually, wear down the challenger. Hisada can fight, and is very solid on the front foot, but if he gets pushed back, as we expect to see here, he tends to struggle. With Kyoguchi being a fantastic body puncher we think that it'll be the body work of the champion that does the damage and, eventually, leads to him stopping Hisada.
Prediction - TKO8 Kyoguchi
This coming Saturday isn't a huge day for Asian boxing, but there is stuff to get excited about, and for boxing fans in general the pick of the shows takes place in California.
That card has a trio of "world title bouts" on it, one of which will see Russian based Uzbek Batyr Akhmedov (7-0, 6) fighting for the WBA "regular" Light Welterweight title. The unbeaten Akhmedov takes on fellow unbeaten fighter Mario Barrios (24-0, 16), in what should be a very explosive contest between two hard hitting and fast improving fighters. Whilst the WBA "regular" title isn't really a world title, it does give us some great match ups and this one of those.
Akhmedov, also known as Batuhan Gozgec, was born in Uzbekistan, competed at the Olympics for Turkey and is based in Russia. He's a fighter with a mixed background, but a strong background all the same, having competed at the Rio games and been a very strong amateur with WSB experience as well. Although he was successful in the unpaid ranks his style always seemed like it would be better in the professional ranks, and that was seen when he began his professional career. In just his 4th professional bout he dominated the solid Ricky Sismundo and quickly added other notable wins over Ismael Barroso and Viktor Plotnikov. Those 3 wins alone helped secure him a high world ranking and got him in the world title mix.
In the ring Akhmedov is a hard hitting boxer-puncher, who has real spite on his shots. He's not the most defensively sound fighter, but he's also not someone who takes too many risks, until he feels he's softened his opponent up. Like many Easter European and Central Asian fighters he does have very solid amateur credentials, but also a bit of flair to his boxing, wanting to catch the eye of fans. When he gets someone hurt he really goes all out to take them out, and has brutal power in both hands. His main issues is when he does turn on the jets he does leave himself a bit open as he gets often left hand happy.
At 24 years old Barrios is just coming into his prime, but his career feels like it's been a slow burning one since his professional debut in 2013. The American showed some early promise, but was originally fighting at Bantawmeight. Since the early days his frame has filled out and he's become a strong and powerful Light Welterweight, settling at a weight that seems to be the best for him. At one point there was question marks about his power but since going through the weights and physically maturing. The development of his power has seen him scoring 8 straight stoppages, but his competition has, at times, been rather limited, under-sized or small. For Barrios the bout really is a huge step up.
Watching Barrios in action we can see how his frame suits the move up to 140lbs more than it did at the lower weights. He's a big kid, with a tall, rangy frame and adding muscle to that frame has certainly been best for his career. Even at 140lbs he looks big, and we do wonder how he made 122lbs. He's more patient than Akhmedov, and looks for openings, trying to to box himself into bouts. He's got quick hands, nice range and good power, though of course we've not seem him being caught by a legitimate 140lb puncher yet, and that is a big question he will need to answer here.
Barrios is certainly the more rounded, pure boxer, he's the one who will fight behind his jab, the one who will move and use the ring. Akhmedov however is a tank, he'll come forward, throw from some unusual angles and look to get his thunderous power into play early on. That power may turn out to be too much for Barrios, who really hasn't been caught by a legitimate power punching Light Welterweight.
We expect Barrios to start well, but sooner or later he will taste the power of Akhmedov, and from then on we suspect he'll be ground down by the Uzbek-Russian who will eventually get the stoppage, and secure the biggest win of his career.
Prediction - Akhmedov TKO9
The Minimumweight division has promised so much in recent years, yet has horribly under-delivered with no unification bouts and champions often facing lesser known challengers. There has been some great moments in the division over the last year or two, but the division hasn't managed to build on the action and excitement that Katsunari Takayama once gave us.
One of the biggest frustrations in the division has been WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart (19-0, 7). Early on his career he looked like he was going to be a new star for the division. He had a great nickname, a fantastic background from Muay Thai, and was thrown in at the deep end, fighting in a Youth title bout on his debut. With 3 stoppages in his first 4 bouts, and 5 in his first 8, it seemed like he had some pop and his desire to be tested was great. In just his 9th bout he was fighting for the WBA "interim" title against Carlos Buitrago, and since then he has gone on to claim the main WBA title.
In just 19 fights Knockout has beaten Carlos Buitrago, twice, Muhammad Rachman, Byron Rojas, twice, Shin Ono, Alexis Diaz, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xiong Zhao Zhong. On paper that's an impressive resume. Sadly though he's become being "Knockout CP Freshmart" to "Unanimous Decision CP Freshmart", with just 2 stoppages in his last 11, and his last 4 have all gone the distance. What's worse is how boring some of these bouts have become, with Knockout not taking risks, not going for a finish and instead his bouts have often meandered, to a forgettable, yet predictable conclusion.
Whilst Knockout is talented, he's not a risk taker, or someone who will put on a show. He'll often get himself in an early lead, then maul, make things messy and fiddle his way to a win with his early lead, rather than trying to shine.
This coming Friday Knockout makes his next defense of the WBA Minimumweight title and takes on unbeaten Filipino teenager ArAr Andales (10-0, 2). It's again a rather poor defense for Knockout, who looks like he's picking on a kid when a division has fighters like Simphiwe Khonco, Carlos Licona, Ricardo Astuvilca, Joey Canoy and Jose Argumedo floating around. That's not to say that Andales is a bad fighter, he isn't, he's just young, inexperienced and clearly a long way from his prime. He's an improving fighter, but one who isn't yet ready for a world title fight, and is being pushed into this fight a bit too early in his career, sadly.
Andales debuted in June 2017 and 15 months later he claimed his first title, the LuzProBa Minimumweight title, he would then add the WBA Asia title earlier this year, and has since defended the belt one, with a win over Cris Ganoza. The win over Ganoza showed that Andales is a true prospect, a real one to watch. But he is still only a prospect, with 10 bouts and 58 rounds under his belt, and the Ganoza fight aside he hasn't really faced anyone at even fringe regional level. From the footage available he's a smart fighter, uses good body shots and can use distance well, sneaking out of range when he needs to. Sadly though there is also a clear reckless side to his fighting and he could do with a lot more polishing before getting a shot at this level.
If Andales was handled right, and this opportunity came after a few more developmental fights against progressively better competition, maybe even with him facing a regional champion, he could, perhaps, be ready for Knockout. Instead we expect him to be a gallant loser, putting up a good effort, having moments, but failing to keep the intensity over 12 rounds in Thailand to defeat Knockout. The Thai isn't unbeatable, not even close, but Andales is ill prepared to take him on at this stage.
Prediction - UD 12 Knockout CP Freshmart
When we talk about modern day boxing legends few can compare to Filipino great Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39), who has done stuff that many wouldn't have dreamed possible in our great sport. The looks to continue his career this coming Saturday and add yet another notable win to his incredible resume as he battles unbeaten and popular American Keith Thurman (29-0-0-1, 22) and looks to unify the WBA "regular" title, which he won last year, with Thurman's "Super" title. A win for Pacquiao would be yet another cherry on top of a career that has had so much success, and would prove, even at the age of 40, that he was still an active legend. For Thurman the bout acts as a chance to finally get an elite level name on his record, after years of talking about being a special fighter.
Pacquiao, of course better known as "Pacman", has had the story of his career told, re-told and re-told once again. The early days, putting weights in his pockets to and fighting as a 16 year old in small venues of the Philippines, making a name for himself and fighting to eat, to his modern day status as one of the greatest fighters in living memory and a fighter who has made more money than most people could ever dream of. During his 24 year career he has done so much, moving from Flyweight all the way up to Light Middleweight, grabbing titles in almost every division along the way and fighting in a variety of countries. He has been one of boxing's few true, global stars and a man who has transcended the sport whilst creating a resume that reads like a history of boxing greats.
From beating Chatchai Sasakul in 1998 to beating Adrien Broner earlier this year Pacquiao has spent 20 years at world level and has the right to retire as a legend whenever he wishes. Instead however he wants to build on his legacy and etch his name deeper into the annals of boxing history.
Not only has Pacquiao been at the top for longer than most but he has done so whilst adapting, changing and altering his style. Early on he was a crude, left hand happy power puncher, before becoming a dynamic dervish of 2-handed power and speed, then as age got to him he began to show more boxing finesse, picking his power punches and building on his ring craft to control the pace and tempo. Even at his current age he is still a lighting quick fighter, but knows that he needs to pace himself a little more, fighting at a controlled range and using his dynamite left hand to force any fighter to respect him. He's certainly past his peak, but has adapted to prolong his career and his success.
At the age of 30 Keith Thurman is a man who really should be a big star than he is, or perhaps he could have bee a much bigger star than he is. He's a good looking, charismatic guy, who early on had a fun style, with explosive power. He combined a style in the ring with a confident personality and a cool cat persona. He was an easy guy to root for, as the Welterweight division shifted focus from the old men on top to the new breed breaking through. Sadly though Thurman never really had the transition he needed, he could never get the passing of the torch fight, and lost some of his best years through injury and inactivity.
In 2013 Thurman beat former world champion Jan Zaveck, in a big win at the time, then stopped Diego Gabriel Chaves for the WBA "interim" world title, which he defended at the end of the year against Jesus Soto Karass. Those 3 wins saw him with an unbeaten record, 20 T/KO's from 22 wins, and a title. He was just 25 and looked like he had the keys to the Welterweight castle. Since then however he has gone 9-0 (2), fighting just 7 times in 5 years and rarely looking like the man many had pegged him for. For much of that reign his competition lacked quality and real threat, with only Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia really regarded as threats to Thurman on paper. The others were typically older fighters, with their best years behind them, like Julio Diaz, Roberto Guerrero and Luis Collazo. Despite the less than amazing competition the WBA have stood by his side, and he has moved from interim to regular to Super Champion during his reign with their title.
Whilst injuries certainly were a problem for Thurman his attitude had changed. When he was climbing the ranks it was all about taking over, being the avoided man, the hot young gun that no one wanted to face. Since winning the title however he has become the thing he complained about. He's failed to take on the rising lions of the emerging wave, the likes of Errol Spence Jr, and and 7 of his last 9 have come against men the wrong side of 30, with Pacquiao joining those older foes of Thurman's. A shame we've not seen him in with the fellow best, given his athletic and exciting style, his boxer-puncher ability and his genuinely nasty finishing.
Whilst Pacquiao, at his best, would have been strongly favoured over a fighter like Thurman, it's now a case of questioning how much Pacquiao has left in the tank.He looked like he had lost a couple of steps in his win over Broner earlier this year, and Lucas Matthysse looked so washed last year that it's hard to know how good the Pacquiao of today really is. Thurman hasn't lived up to his expectations, he's not shown world class power at world level, but given such a big age and natural size advantage it's hard to go against him, especially given that Pacquiao has so many questions hanging over his head.
We would love to see Pacquiao add Thurman's name to a resume that includes Chatchai Sasakul, Lehlo Ledwaba, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley. Sadly though we fear father time will finally catch up to the Pacman.
Prediction TKO10 Thurman.
In October 2018 we saw American Rob Brant (25-1, 17) end Ryota Murata's (14-2, 11) short lived reign as the WBA "regular" Middleweight champion, upsetting the Japanese fighter over 12 1-sided rounds. The bout, which was supposed to be a big opportunity for Murata to shine on US soil against a limited challenger backfired, big time, with Brant using Murata for target practice over 12 rounds.
It was as humiliating a 12 round decision loss that we've seen a champion suffer in years, and in many ways it was similar to Joe Calzaghe's dominant win over Jeff Lacy. Brant, like Calzaghe, was the under-dog who set an insane work rate and Murata, like Lacy, was made to look slow and clumsy, unable to use their vaunted power. Both were boxing's answer to death by 1000 cuts, with neither Calzaghe or Brant having the power to stop their opponent, but having the work rate to handcuff them, dominate them and leave their man mentally questioning their future.
The question coming in, is whether Murata can do what Lacy couldn't, and can rebuild his career? We'll find out on July 12th when Murata gets his rematch with Brant in Osaka, as the headline bout of a big Japanese card!
When Murata turned professional, originally with Top Rank in the US and Misako and Teiken in Japan, he did so with a lot of fanfare and attention. He made his debut in 2013, stopping the then Japanese OPBF Middleweight champion Akio Shibata, with that win following incredible amateur success, including an Olympic gold medal and a World Amateur silver medal. His amateur pedigree and professional debut seemed to put him on the fast track to the top, though unfortunately he didn't really shine as many had hoped. As a professional he looked good, strong, but never great. He looked effective, but basic, only showing glimpses of brilliance.
Sadly for Murata he would never really replicate his amateur success in the professional ranks. He would never develop beyond being a strong but basic fighter. He had thudding power in each hand, a great chin, good stamina and applied solid pressure, as we saw in both of his bouts with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. Sadly though he would never develop the tools to use a plan B. He never looked quick or sharp, just always consistent, basic and thudding. It was enough to win his bouts against his earlier foes, and yes we all know he was robbed in the first bout N'Dam, but against Brant he was too slow and seemed like he was made to order for Brant.
Brant had entered the first bout with Murata as the mandatory challenger, but someone who was given little chance. He was, seemingly, the latest in a long line of boxing's undeserving mandatory challengers. He had done nothing to earn a shot and had lost, just 12 months earlier, to Juergen Braehmer in what was a pretty clear defeat to the German veteran. What few expected was for Brant to look like a totally different fighter to the one who had froze on the big stage against Braehmer. Against Murata he looked like a perpetual punching machine, a tireless bundle of energy, who set an insane work rate, threw an average of 105 punches a round, neutralising Murata with work rate. He out landed the Japanese fighter round after round.
Officially in their first bout Brant landed 356 punches, to Murata's 180, though watching the fighting it seemed like there was an even bigger difference between the two men.
Although Brant had gone into the bout as the under-dog he had dominated Murata and went on to successfully defend the belt this past February, when he stopped the previously unbeaten Khasan Baysangurov. That bout saw Brant show a bit more venom on his shots, dropping Baysangurov in rounds 2 and 11 to force a TKO win. He hadn't become a puncher, but had seemingly just added a bit more to his game after winning the title, and looked like a solid, if still under-rated, Middleweight.
Sadly for Murata it's hard to see how he can do anything to change the outcome from the first bout. He was too slow, too open, too basic, fought too 1-paced and showed so little hunger and variation. For him to beat Brant would take one of 3 things. Either he hands a freak 1-punch KO, shocking Brant. He gets Brant to freeze, shocked by the atmosphere, and takes the win due to Brant not adapting to being in Japan. He totally reinvents himself at the age of 33, and has some how remodelled his entire style in just 9 months.
The odds on any of those 3 things happening are slim, and we really can't see how Murata avenges his loss here. He looked lost, and we expected the same again, with perhaps a late mercy stoppage if he takes clean and repeated head shots in the championship rounds, as he did in their first bout.
Prediction TKO12 Brant
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.