The Featherweight division is on of the most fragmented in the sport right now, with no unified champions and no clear #1. In fact it's not really clear on the ordering of any of the champions, and inactivity of certain fighters atop the division doesn't help matter. This coming Saturday we get a WBA "regular" title bout in the division, as defending champion Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) defends his belt against Chinese challenger Can Xu (15-2, 2). No matter who wins the division will remain a huge mess at the top, though at the very least this bout should remove a contender from the very messy WBA title picture.
We say it's a messy title scene for the WBA as they currently have 3 champions in the division. Rojas, the "regular" champion, Leo Santa Cruz, the "Super champion" and Jhack Tepora, the "interim" champion [ Ed's note - Tepora will be defending the "interim" title against Hugo Ruiz the day AFTER this preview goes live]. It appears none of the men are likely to face off any time soon, and instead the 3 titles will float around for time. Rather than linger on that, and politics of the WBA, we'll get on to the preview.
Rojas, from Puerto Rico, is one of the division's many over-looked fighters. He's tough, heavy handed, aggressive, physically strong and a nightmare for many in the division. Technically he is flawed, a rough around the edges fighter who can be out boxed, out sped and out thought, though few will fancy their chances of out fighting him. He comes forward behind a tight guard, looks to go to work up close and turn things into a fighter. He has been down before, and actually lost a decision last time out to Jospeh Diaz but kept the title due to Diaz failing to make weight. Diaz beat him by establishing the range, using a lot of jabs and countering well, setting a gameplan that fighters could use to beat Rojas in the future, if they have a similar skill level and toughness to Diaz.
Although he can be out boxed Rojas is the type of fighter who will be a nightmare for anyone. He will press the action, come forward and make even the best boxers work incredibly hard to earn a win. His aggression, physical strength an will to win are very hard to over-come.
Xu is looking to become the third Chinese male to win a world title, following Xiong Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, he's also looking to become their first champion above 112lbs. He's a relative unknown on the international scene, though is relatively well known in Asia, where he has fought all but 1 bout. In Asia he has scored notable wins against the likes Hurricane Futa, Kris George, Corey McConnell, Spicy Matsushita and Nehomar Cermeno. Outside of Asia his only bout saw him being surprisingly pushed all the way by Enrique Bernache last September, and in fact that bout almost cost him this title fight.
In the ring Xu is far from a puncher. He's an aggressive boxer, who lets his hands go a lot, but lacks power, and his stoppages have come from wearing opponents down. Despite his high work rate he does lack finesse in a lot of what he does, though has sparred with top fighters to try and develop his skills and polish things off. That sparring, including sparring with Naoya Inoue, will help improve Xu but the reality is that he's never going to be a a fluid, natural fighter. More a basic fighter, who works hard for results, especially at a level like this.
Given that both men like to let their hands go, both come forward and neither looks great on the back foot we're expecting these two to meet center ring. Sadly for Xu meeting with Rojas in the ring isn't a wise idea, and we suspect that Rojas' power and psychical strength will be the difference. Xu will be forced to back up, and we don't think he'll be effective on the back foot, instead we see him being broken down in the second half of the fight.
This coming Saturday we get the first major US bout featuring an Asian fighter, as Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39) defends his WBA Welterweight title against controversial American Adrien Broner (33-3-1-1, 24). For Pacquiao the bout will be the first of the title he won last July, when he stopped Lucas Matthysse, whilst Broner will be looking to reclaim the title he lost to Marcos Maidana in 2013.
At the age of 40 it's hard to know exactly what Pacquiao has left, however last time out he looked better than he had in a while, with some new found hunger and desire. It wasn't the Pacquiao of his heyday, where he was a destructive maelstrom of punches, but it was a sharp, hard hitting and smart Pacquiao. He was accurate, landing left hands at will and using his experience and skills to stop Matthysse. Amazingly the stoppage of Matthysse was Pacquiao's first since he stopped Miguel Cotto back in 2009.
At his very best Pacquiao was one of the all time greats, capable of living with the best in any era. Not only could have claim to have been one of the best, but he could also claim to have been one of the best in a number of divisions, having won world titles from 112lbs up to 154lbs. Now a days however it's clear that we're not looking at the same Pacquiao. He's still a very explosive southpaw, with a demonic straight left hand, however he has lost some speed, some ferocity and some of his energy. He's adapted his style well, and he's still a fantastic fighter, but not the man who defeated the likes of Chatchai Sasakul, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, among others.
An 80% Pacquiao would still be favoured over most fighters, but it's really not clear if we have an 80% Pacquiao or not. If we do it's always hard to bet against him.
Broner was once regarded as the heir apparent for Floyd Mayweater Jr. He was a skilled, counter puncher with a loud and brash attitude, that helped to generate a lot of buzz. He quickly went through the weigh classes, claiming titles from Super Featherweight to Welterweight, but it seemed like he move up due to an inability to control his weight, rather than naturally growing into bigger divisions.At the lower weights he was physically strong, powerful, quick and explosive. As he's moved up in weight he's kept the quickness, but is less physically imposing, less destructive and less active, in fact he's rather lazy in the ring, with low out put.
Technically Broner is a very talented fighter. When he actually uses his brain he's excellent. He's a sharp puncher, has a solid defense, impressive power and good timing. Sadly however his biggest issues in boxing, and it seems outside of boxing, is his brain and he's proven to not be the smartest or most dedicated fighter. Instead he's proving to be someone willing to derail his own career on a regular basis. If he clicks and can get up for a fight, and maintain the mental aspect that he needs he can be a major player, at least at Light Welterweight, but we're unsure whether he will ever make the most of his potential.
Given the age of Pacquiao we won't rule out a Broner win, but that would be an upset. We suspect Pacquiao will box to orders, move, stay busy and use his speed to simply out box a lazy Broner. Broner does have the skills and power to beat a faded Pacquiao, but we're not sure he has the mentality to beat the Filipino icon, even a 40 year old Pacquiao.
Our prediction is a wide UD to Pacquiao on this one.
On January 19th our attention, at least later in the day, will be in Nevada, as PBC put on a stacked card in association with numerous promoters. One of the many notable bouts on that card will see unbeaten Filipino Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) make his first defense of the WBA "interim" Featherweight title, as he takes on Mexican veteran Hugo Ruiz (38-4, 33). On paper this should be a very explosive and exciting match up between two heavy-handed fighters, who are both flawed, but exciting.
Tepora had long been seen as a rising prospect on the Filipino scene, and put his name on the international stage in 2017 when he scored a KO of the year contender against Lusanda Komanisi in South Africa. That was Tepora's 16th stoppage win in 21 bouts and his first outside of the Philippines. He built on that win last July in Malaysia by stopping Edivaldo Ortega in 9 rounds, to claim the WBA interim title. In both of those bouts Tepora looked a bit slow, and technically flawed, but was aggressive, heavy-handed and showed that even his jab could put opponents on the back foot.
Fighting from the southpaw stance, with a lot of power, Tepora is a real danger man and the 25 year old will be looking to have a lengthy reign with that title. Sadly however he's not fought since his title winning effort and has failed to really build on that win, something he'll be looking to do when he faces Ruiz. It should be noted that Tepora, at 5'6" is a bit on the short side for a top Featherweight, though has grown into the division, having debuted in 2012 as a Flyweight. He's powerful and a fully mature fighter even if he lacks a bit in terms of experience at the top-level.
The 30 year old Ruiz has had a long career, and a pretty interesting one at that. he would lose an early career bout to Enrique Quevedo before rebuilding to become the WBA "interim" Bantamweight champion in 2011. He held the interim title at 118lbs until challenging "regular" champion Koki Kameda in 2012, losing a close decision to Kameda in Osaka. He would later move up in weight and go 1-1 with Julio Ceja, winning the second bout with Ceja to claim the WBC Super Bantamweight title. That title reign didn't last long, with Ceja losing the title in Japan to Hozumi Hasegawa, in what would be Hasegawa's final bout. Since then he has returned to the ring, winning a couple of low key bouts in Mexico, and decided to move up in weight.
In the ring Ruiz is a powerful boxer-puncher, who is huge for the lower weight classes at almost 5'10". We wonder how much he has taken out of himself by boiling down in the past, and how much better he might end up being at 126lbs. By that same token we have seen him hurt by smaller men and we have to wonder how he copes if he's caught by a bomb by a true Featherweight. We also wonder how his nose, which was injured against Hasegawa, will hold up if he gets tagged on it.
Technically Ruiz is the taller, rangier fighter and also the more technically skilled of the two men. He is however a man who has shown some frailties in the past and against Tepora that is a major issue. Tepora is not the type of guy you want to fight if there's any question marks about your durability.
We expect to see Ruiz give Tepora issues, especially early on, but Tepora will, sooner or later, cut the distance and break his man down, somewhere in the middle rounds, to stop Ruiz and record his first defense of the title. Hopefully that will then lead to a busy and exciting 2019 for Tepora, who should be kept busy and allowed to really build his name over the coming years.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 28, the WBA Minimumweight World Champion Thammanoon Niyomtrong will make his 6th defense, against the man, whom he beat for that very title, Byron Rojas.
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (18-0/7 KOs), also known as Knockout CP Freshmart, just like the majority of the boxers from Thailand, he began his fighting career as a Muay Thai fighter. During that time, he managed to win the Thai National as well as the Lumpinee & Rajadamnern Stadium titles, which are considered to be the sport’s most prestigious championships. By doing so, Niyomtrong has made himself a member of that elite group of men, who have held Muay Thai & Boxing world titles, such as Saensak Muangsurin, Samart Payakaroon and Veeraphol Sahaprom.
He made his pro boxing debut in 2012, and in just 2 years he won 8 fights, 6 of those via KO/TKO. On November of 2014, he took on Carlos Buitrago for the interim WBA Minimumweight World title. Niyomtrong put on a boxing clinic, keeping the pressure on for the entirety of the match, not slowing down for a single minute. Despite suffering a nasty cut at his left eye, his superior striking and counter game earned him the unanimous decision victory that night, thus the interim belt. Their rematch in 2016, was pretty much the same, only this time, Niyomtrong was even more dominant than before.
Knockout CP Freshmart defended the interim WBA title against 2 time World champion Muhammad Rachman, back in 2015. As in the aforementioned bout, the champ kept peppering Rachman constantly for 12 rounds. To the Indonesian’s credit, he never went down and also had a good offense, but nothing game changing. In the end, Niyomtrong showcased incredible hand speed and movement, to once again leave with the gold.
In 2016 he faced the WBA World champion Byron Rojas in a unification fight. Niyomtrong was going for the clinch, every time after throwing a good combination or got tagged, slowing the pace down, in what was a smart but less than exciting strategy, that secured him the win. 6 months later, Niyomtrong successfully defended his world title for the 1st time against former OPBF Light Flyweight champion Shin Ono, after dropping him in the 10th round and continued the assault until the closing bell. He also stopped former Japanese champion Go Odaira, with a sweet right cross in the 5th, after punishing him with a plethora of body shots.
After retaining the world title 2 more times, against Rey Loreto and Toto Landero, he squared off against former WBC World Champion Chaozhong Xiong, this past July, in China. After a relatively slow start to the match, Niyomtrong caught Xiong with a perfectly timed right cross to the chin, during the 3rd round, stunning the former champion momentarily. The action then picked up, as both fighters were trading punches, with the Thai boxer getting the better of these exchanges. Since Niyomtrong was the one pushing the action for the vast majority of the fight, he was awarded the decision, improving his record to a perfect 18-0.
Knockout CP Freshmart will now come face to face again with Byron Rojas (25-3/11 KOs), in a rematch 2.5 years in the making. The Nicaraguan’s biggest achievement was winning a close decision over the WBA Super World Minimumweight Champion Hekkie Budler (now the WBA Light Flyweight World Champion), back in 2016. After losing the title, he has been undefeated in his last 8 fights, including a victory over former WBC Silver champion Carlos Ortega, which was an action-packed eight rounder. Niyomtrong has had tougher challenges in that same timeframe, which has allowed him to improve his skills even further, in comparison to Rojas who has battled against lesser opponents. At that point, it’s safe to say that the Thai fighter will once again walk out with the victory. The real question is, what’s next for Niyomtrong. A unification bout with another champion, like Vic Saludar (IBF) or maybe it’s time for the former Muay Thai king to try his hand at Light Flyweight ? Only time will tell.
The sport of boxing might still be a sport where two fighters hit each other inside a ring trying to either render their opponent unconscious or win a decision, but outside of the ring there is a lot of changes, with one of the biggest ones stateside being HBO's decision to leave boxing. The US television giant was once a cornerstone of boxing television in the US and the premier channel for bouts Stateside. Their long relationship with the sport however comes to end shortly.
One of the very final shows that HBO will air will be headlined by a WBA Light Heavyweight title clash between Kyrgyzstan born Russian champion Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11) and Haitian born Canadian Jean Pascal (33-5-1-1, 20). It's not the most amazing of bouts, but it should be a good chance for Bivol to end an impressive year and do so against an opponent with some name value, albeit a faded name.
The 27 year old Bivol has been impressive ever since making his debut in 2014, against the experienced Jorge Rodriguez Olivera. Unlike many prospects he hasn't been softly matched at all, and he's never faced a fighter with a losing record, in fact the least notable opponent he's faced so far is Yevgenii Makhteienko who surprisingly lasted 10 rounds with Bivol in 2016. In just 14 fights he has already stamped his name as one of the leading fighters at Light Heavyweight, alongside Eleider alvarez, Adonis Stevenson, Badou Jack and Artur Beterbiev. Unlike those others however he's a relative spring chicken at 27 years old, in what appears to be a division full of older men at the top.
In the ring Bivol is an aggressive yet technical fighter, who fights to a relatively text book style, but at a very high tempo. He's a crisp, clean puncher, with good variety to his work, an excellent output and under-rated defense. If we're being honest the most impressive thing about him isn't his high output, but the fact he can keep it up for all 12 rounds. Sadly he can look a bit predictable, and a smart, well educated and unorthodox fighter can give him problems, as we saw earlier this year against Isaac Chilemba who really tested Bivol, for the first time in his career. We suspect some seasoning, and experience will help there, though there is a feeling that he lacks in terms of ingenuity, and won't be inventive in how he approaches certain opponents. That's not too much of an issue, given his plan A is so effective, but would be one possible improvement for him going forward.
At 36 years old Pascal is one of the many Light Heavyweights who are sticking around the top 10 but are past their physical primes. In fact Pascal may be the most war worn and damaged of the older men in the division, given he has had so many tough fights during his 40 fight career. He has been competing around the top of the sport for a decade, with his 2008 war with Carl Froch living long in the memory. Since facing Froch for the WBC Super Middleweight title he has shared the ring with the likes of Adrian Diaconu, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucian Bute, Sergey Kovalev, Yunieski Gonzalez and Elerider Alvarez. A real who's who. Sadly for Pascal he has taken a lot of punishment in those fights, and was twice stopped by Kovalev. In more recent years those battles have taken a toll on him, and his reliance on heart, natural explosiveness and athleticism has proven to be problematic, as his body has taken significant damage and aged.
At his best Pascal was a blood and guts warrior, with heavy hands, real quickness, and an awkward style that depended heavily on his explosiveness. As he's aged his legs have slowed, his hands are not quite as quick as they were, his power's not as effective with the loss of speed and his chin isn't what it once was. He's still awkward, but he's probably about 6 years from his peak, and that's an issue against a young gun like Bivol.
At his best Pascal would have made for a very tricky assignment for Bivol. The unorthodox style of Pascal, who regularly leaped in and came at opponents from peculiar angles, would have given the text book style of Bivol real questions to answer. Sadly however this faded Pascal will be unlikely to give Bivol much of a fight, and will instead be expected to be chewed up and stopp in the middle or later rounds, as Bivol moves towards unification contests in 2019.
This coming Saturday we find out who will be the fourth of the World Boxing Super Series Bantamweight Semi-Finalists, as unbeaten Northern Irish fighter Ryan Burnett (19-0, 9) takes on Filipino icon Nonito Donaire (38-5, 24) in the final bout of the quarter final stage. Not only is the bout a WBSS bout, to decide who faces Zolani Tete in the next round of the competition, but it will also see Burnett defending his WBA "Super" Bantamweight title, in what will be his second defense of the title.
Of the two fighters Donaire is the more well known, and in fact he is one of the few lower weight fighters who has made a mark across the globe. He's well known in his native Philippines, he's fought much of his career in North America, often fighting Latin Americans and has also managed one to fight in Europe, losing to the popular Carl Frampton last time out. Whilst he is very well known he is unfortunately a faded star, and he actually turns 36 in just a few weeks time. He's not a young 36 either, having been a professional since 2001 and fighting at world level pretty consistently since his 2007 upset win over Vic Darchinyan. Donaire has also been matched against a veritable who's who from Flyweight to Featherweight, sharing the ring with the likes of Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Fenando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nicholas Walters and Carl Frampton, just to name a few. His career has seen him rise from a fresh faced young Flyweight champion to a Featherweight champion as a veteran.
In the ring Donaire is a fighter who has been blessed with brutal power, a good ring IQ and solid boxing fundamentals. Sadly in his prime he wasn't the most active and often seemed to be the type of fighter who looked to land the perfect punch, even when he moved up in weight his power was devastating, though his activity never really impressed and at times he could be made to look very predictable by defensively minded fighters, with the older, smaller Narvaez making him look 1 paced and Rigondeaux making him look clumsy. Now, in his mid 30's, he's lost some speed, his mobility isn't what it once was and with his low work rate doesn't allow him to chip away at opponents. He also has a huge question mark over his ability to safely make Bantamweight, and what he will have left in him when he gets in the ring. That's a major issue given he hasn't made the weight in over 7 years!
At 26 years old Burnett is one of the youngest fighters in the Bantamweight WBSS and is also one of the more accomplished from the young bunch, having won the IBF title in June 2017 and unifying it with the WBA "Super" title just a few months later. Sadly mandatory obligations for the WBA and IBF saw him vacating the IBF title, which is now held by fellow WBSS competitor Emmanuel Rodriguez. Not only is he an accomplished fighter but Burnett is a former amateur standout who has a fantastic boxing brain, a good engine and a brilliant awareness in the ring. He's slippery, awkward, sharp and a great mover. Sadly however Burnett does lack power and has gone the distance in his last 8 bouts, whilst showing little killer instinct and no real interest in hunting a stoppage. One wonders whether he has that extra gear and spitefulness that he'll need to win the WBSS, or whether he's simply too nice and lacks the teeth to get past the likes of Naoya Inoue and Zolani Tete. Despite the criticism few can doubt his ability and wins over the likes of Jason Booth, Lee Haskins, Zhant Zhakiyanov and Yonfrez Parejo really do prove that.
The key for the champion here is to out manoeuvre, the Filipino veteran. Burnett has the speed to make this look very easy, as long as he can avoid the power of the Filipino. Donaire will however be dangerous through out the bout, and if the Filipino has made weight without harming himself too much that power will be as devastating as ever, if he can land a perfect counter. Burnett is the naturally smaller man, giving away notable height and reach to the Filipino, but his edge in speed, activity and youth should be enough for him to take home the win, and retain his title whilst moving on to the next round of the WBSS.
We'd love to see one more great performance from Donaire, who has been a key figure in the lower weights for a decade. The reality however is that his great career is coming to an end, and although he might have one great performance in him we don't think that'll come here against a man who could make the Filipino look very old if he wishes. Donaire's toughness should keep him in the bout, and his power will always make him dangerous, but we see him losing a very lopsided decision to the baby faced Burnett.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On October 20, Olympic Gold Medalist Ryota Murata will make his second defense of the WBA Middleweight World Title against Rob Brant, in the States.
Ryota Murata (14-1 / 11 KOs) is one of Japan’s biggest boxing superstars. Names like Naoya Inoue, Kosei Tanaka, Hiroto Kyoguchi, Kazuto Ioka (and more), who all are now (current or former) world champions, have had quite the accomplished amateur careers, but none like his. It could take an entire article of its own so I will try and keep this as short as possible. Murata managed to win the prestigious All Japan Championship 5 times, in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, as well as earning the bronze at the 2005 Asian Championships, the silver at the 2005 King’s Cup in Bangkok and the silver again at the 2011 World Championships. In 2012, he finally realized his dream of becoming an Olympic champion, thus making history on multiple fronts, as he became Japan’s only second boxer to win a gold medal at the Olympics, the other being Takao Sakurai in 1964, almost half a century ago, and the first ever Japanese boxer to win it in the middleweight division. During his illustrious amateur run, which lasted nearly a decade, he fought and beat several major names like Abbos Atoev, a gold medalist at the 2007 & 2009 World Championships and Esquiva Falcao, a silver medalist at the 2012 Olympic Games, who turned pro in 2014 and has amassed a record of 21 wins and zero losses (currently ranked #6 by the WBA at the middleweight division). Murata’s amateur record is 119-18, with 89 referee stoppages.
Murata made his much anticipated pro debut in 2013 against former Japanese & OPBF champion Akio Shibata (21-7*) at the Ariake Colosseum. He proved his dominance by knocking Akio down in just the first round and causing the referee to step in the second after putting a beating on the veteran fighter. After despatching Dave Peterson (13-1*), in a one sided beat down, he faced former world title contender Carlos Nascimento (29-3*). In the third round, Murata landed a lighting fast uppercut, followed by a nice combination of punches that floored Carlos. The punishment continued throughout the fourth as well, leading to the TKO win.
Basically Murata’s pro run can be described with one word: Destruction! Besides 3 decision victories, he has stopped everyone who has been in the ring with. Jesus Angel Nerio (12-4*) fell victim to his patented right straight, much like Gaston Alejandro Vega (24-10) and Felipe Santos Pedroso (13-1). Douglas Ataide (13-1*) actually gave Murata one competitive round, but in the end, he shared the same fate as the rest. His fights with George Tahdooahnippah (34-2*) and Bruno Sandoval (19-1*) weren’t even close. Possibly his two most dominant wins to date.
On May 20 of 2017, the Olympian was ready to make history once more when he met interim champion Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (35-2*) for the vacant WBA Middleweight World Title. The Japanese challenger scored an early knockdown in the fourth round, courtesy of a right straight to the jaw of Hassan, much to the delight of the fans in Tokyo. He almost dropped him again in the next but Hassan held his ground and came back firing shots. The fight turned out to be a back and forth affair, with Murata turning the heat up in the later rounds, catching the interim champ flash on numerous occasions. Both men went from punch to punch until the closing bell. Everyone was expecting for Murata to be crowned the new world champion, as he was always a step ahead of Hassan, for the majority of the bout. However, 2 of the judges didn’t see it that way, since they awarded the French fighter with the split decision and the title. The crowd started booing heavily, which it’s not something we see very often in Japan, unless there’s a dubious decision or any unprofessional conduct from the fighters’ side.
The rematch was set for October of the same year. Murata, much like in their previous encounter, had the upper hand, as he kept rocking the champion constantly with his right straight punches and body shots, all the time. It quickly became like every other Murata fight, where his opponent was practically helpless against his power and speed. After the seventh round, Hassan simply gave up, refusing to continue the fight. As a result, Murata was declared the new World Champion. 5 years later after winning gold in London, Ryota Murata wrote history again as not only he became just the second Japanese to win a middleweight world title in boxing (Shinji Takehara won the WBA belt back in 1995) but also the very first Japanese boxer to win both an Olympic Gold and a World Championship.
His first defense took place this past April, when he stopped former EBU champion Emanuele Felice Blandamura (27-2*), in the eight round. Also a historic win as he became the first Japanese Middleweight World Champion to successfully defend the belt atleast once (Shinji Takehara lost the title in his one and only defense).
Murata’s next challenger will be American fighter Rob Brant (23-1 / 16 KOs), this Saturday in Las Vegas. It’s obvious that Brant is nowhere near the Olympian’s level. His brawling style will not work here against Murata, who can fight you in a phone booth or can knock you out with a right straight, which you probably won’t even see it coming. At this point of his career, Murata needs bigger challenges like David Lemieux (40-4), Kamil Szeremeta (18-0), Esquiva Falcao (21-0) which will be intriguing given their history, or the former world champion himself Gennady Golovkin (38-1) who had expressed interest in fighting Murata in the past.
Actually, a battle with GGG would make more sense, especially now that Murata is the sole WBA Middleweight World Champion (the super champion Canelo vacated the belt when he decided to move up a weight class). Considering that his 2 fights with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam drew close to 30 million viewers, in Japan alone, a clash with the former middleweight kingpin at the Tokyo Dome, would be one of the ages. Plus, if that match is to take place, it will be the first time a Japanese boxer has main evented the Big Egg. But for all that to happen, Murata must finish with this mandatory challenge first, which in my opinion, shouldn’t be that hard. The best is yet to come for Japan’s favourite son!
*Fighter’s record prior to the fight mentioned.
This coming Sunday we see the Bantamweight version of the World Boxing Super Series kick off, with Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue (16-0, 14) facing off with former world champion Carlos Payano (20-1, 9) in the inaugural bout. Not only will it kick off the next weight at the WBSS but it will also serve as Inoue's first defense of the WBA “regular” Bantamweight title, a belt that he won earlier this year when he blitzed Jamie McDonnell.
The tournament, which features Inoue and Payano, alongside Ryan Burnett, Zolani Tete, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Jason Moloney, Nonito Donaire and Mikhail Aloyan, is expected to see 3 titles unified and have global interest. The weight is the lowest to be featured in the WBSS and is expected to give the Bantamweight division the spotlight it deserve, and a spotlight that had previous been shone on the Cruiserweight division, helping Oleksandr Usyk become a major name.
In Japan “Monster” Inoue is already a massive star. He's not only one of the most significant men in Japanese boxing but is popularity is up there with the biggest names in Japanese sport in general. The young sensation was hyped ahead of his debut, with promoter Hideyuki Ohashi proudly telling the boxing world how good Inoue was, and the fighter has since delivered, proving elite level prospects don't need to be matched softly. Within just 16 fights, and 92 rounds, he has already notched up wins against Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez, Omar Andres Narvaez, Kohei Kono and Jamie McDonnell. In scoring those 16 wins he has claimed the Japanese, OPBF and WBC titles at Light Flyweight, the WBO title at Super Flyweight and the WBA regular title at Bantamweight.
In the ring there is very little Inoue can't do. He's lighting quick, very physically strong for such a big man, scarily heavy handed, brilliant at cutting the ring off and improve all the time. Early in his career there was some defensive issues, sometimes he dropped his concentration and there was a little bit of over-confidence but that now seems to have vanished and he's about as perfect of an offensive machine we currently have in professional boxing. There are still some defensive things to work on, but he's not as defensively naive as he once was, and when he chooses to box on the move there are few fighters with the skills or speed to connect on him.
At 34 years old American based Dominican fighter Juan Carlos Payano is pretty much in last chance saloon. A loss to Inoue likely spells the end of his hopes of becoming a 2-time champion. He is however a pretty notable fighter in his own right. As an amateur he is a 2-time Olympian, fighting in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, a 2-time World Amateur Championship competitor, competing in 2005 and 2009. As a professional he is a former WBA “super” champion at Bantamweight, and has notable wins over Anselmo Moreno and Rau'shee Warren to his name at world level. Sadly though he would lose the WBA belt to Warren in a rematch and since then scored 3 relatively low key wins, including one over Filipino prospect Mike Plania who dropped Payano back in March.
At his best Payano was a pretty good fighter, you don't beat Moreno and Warren without being good, but there was fortune in both of those wins. The victory over Payano came from a technical decision, which many watching seemed to feel went the wrong way, whilst the win over Warren was a messy foul-fest with multiple deductions and saw Payano being dropped in the final round. Given those wins were several years ago now and he's 34 years old he's a long way removed from his prime. Despite being such a good amateur he's sloppy, wild and doesn't have much power on his shots.
The southpaw stance of Payano is expected to be the biggest issue for Inoue, but is something he's been working hard on in preparation for this contest. The Japanese fighter should be too quick, too sharp, too powerful and too intense for Payano. Inoue might take a shot or two whilst cutting the distance but it's hard to see anyway in which Payano survives with the Monster, never mind upsets the star from Kanagawa. Inoue by stoppage seems almost a foregone conclusion as he looks to add the WBSS' Muhammad Ali trophy to his collection of professional crowns.
The second set of WBSS tournaments begin this coming weekend in Yokohama.
The first bout in the competition is mouth watering clash at 140lbs as we get pressure fighter against puncher with Kiryl Relikh (22-2, 19) facing off with Eduard Troyanovsky (27-1, 24). On paper this has the potential to be a very explosive encounter, with both fighters being aggressive, both fighters looking for earlier finishes and both men wanting to advance in the WBSS. Not only is this a WBSS bout but also a contest for the WBA Light Welterweight title and a chance for both men to shine in front a Japanese audience in the arena.
Relikh, a Belorussian 28 year old, is the defending champion and the betting favourite. He's an aggressive pressure fighter dubbed the “Mad Bee” because of his aggression. He was a very good amateur before turning professional in 2011. As a professional his career was a bit of a slow burner, with no massive backing in Belarus for boxing. Despite the slow burn he was developing well in his homeland and stayed busy during the formative years of his professional career. He would begin to get chances outside of Belarus in 2014 and linked up with Ricky Hatton. Hatton would guide Relikh to his first major international fight in 2016, a narrow and ultra-competitive loss to Ricky Burns. Despite being a loss it put Relikh on the boxing map and has since lead to two bout with Rances Barthelmy. The first of them was a very controversial loss for the Belorussian who avenged the defeat in clear fashion when the two men had their rematch earlier this year.
In the ring Relikh lives up to his “Mad Bee” moniker. He's incredibly busy, buzzing around his opponents and throwing a lot of heavy leather. He's not a big hitting single punch KO artist, despite his 19 stoppages, but he's a busy fighter with every shot taking it's toll on his opponents. His work rate is a bigger issue than his power and at 28 years old he is just getting fitter and stronger. Sadly though is defensively not the tightest and he was dropped in the first bout against Barthelmy. So he can be hurt, especially to the body, and can find himself taking shots that her perhaps doesn't want to take. It's actually, also, worth noting that despite his average bout being just over 4 rounds he has got great stamina to do 12 rounds, which he's done in his last 3 bouts.
At 38 years old Troyanovsky is an older fighter but he hasn't had too much wear and tear. In fact if anything the Russian has done really well in avoiding taking any sort of prolonged damage due to the fact he is a frightening puncher. His 24 stoppages in 27 wins has seen him average just 3.4 rounds a fight and has seen him score some sensation victories, including his memorable stoppage win over Japan's Keita Obara in 2016. He's been a professional since 2009 and made an impact after just a year of being a professional, stopping veteran former world title challenger Matt Zegan in December 2010. He would later score notable mid-level wins over the likes of Walter Estrada, Jose Alfaro and Aik Shakhnazaryan before fighting unbeaten IBF champion Cesar Rene Cuenca in 2015. He would stop Cuenca in 6 rounds then defend his belt against Cuenca and Obara the following year before suffering an upset loss in 40 seconds to the unheralded Julius Indongo. Since then he has bounced back with notable wins over Michele Di Rocco and Carlos Manuel Portillo.
Whilst Relikh is a pressure fight Troyanovsky is a pure puncher. His boxing skills are very limited but his power is really a game changer and even talented boxers need to be wary of him connecting, just once. At 38 years old he is still very dangerous due to his limitations. There isn't much speed or defense but he's not a fighter you should take risks against. If he clips you you're either going down, or going to be serious buzzed as he tries to finish you off. Despite hitting hard his ability to take a shot is questionable. Whilst his loss to Indongo did come to a peach of a punch, he has been rocked a few times, in fact Obara seemed to hurt before being stopped himself. Coming in he will know that this will be his last chance, and a loss here likely spells the end of his career, at least as leading contender in a division that has warmed up a lot in the last 12 months or so.
It's clear that Relikh will look to get inside, grind down the older man and take him out whilst Troyanovsky will be trying to load up his big right hand and take him out with a single shot. We suspect Relikh will be fully aware of how Troyanovsky sets up his power and will be tactically avoiding it, whilst grinding down the dangerous challenger. There is always going to be a sense of risk for Relikh, but we suspect he will come out on top in the middle rounds, with Troyanovsky's 38 year old body simply being worn out and beaten down.
This coming Saturday we'll see one of the biggest fights of 2018, as we get the long awaited rematch between Kazakh Middleweight sensation Gennady Golovkin (38-0-1, 34) and Mexican boxing superstar Saul Alvarez (49-1-2, 34). The rematch comes a year after their highly controversial draw, which saw Golovkin retain the WBA “super”, WBC and IBF Middleweight titles whilst also continuing his unbeaten run. It also saw “Canelo” Alvarez face criticism for his style and for favourable judging, especially from Adalaide Byrd who had him winning 118-110.
This rematch was supposed to take place back in May, though was cancelled at short notice when Alvarez tested positive for Clenbuterol. Although the Mexican blamed food, specifically beef, for the positive test it does seem like he's not taken responsibility for his actions, something that has continued to anger the Golovkin team. On the flipside of that however is Golovkin's trainer Abel Sanchez making various accusations about Canelo, including mentioning a suspect wrapping technique.
Although the two men went into the first bout with a lot of respect for each other it does seem like this rematch will be fought will less respect and more emotion. Both men seem to have a genuine dislike of the other, their fan bases and their teams. There is still some mutual respect of the other's ability, but as people it's clear the two will be on each other's Christmas card list in December. Despite their animosity we're expecting to see both men put in a calculated performance as they look to improve on what they did last time out, and take home a victory here.
In their first bout the heavy handed Golovkin took centre ring, he backed up Canelo and seemed to be the clear aggressor. Not only that but he had the higher output, the better work rate and the more consistent offensive work. Sadly for Golovkin he failed to go to the body for the most part and looked to be on the end of the biggest single shots. By failing to go to the body he allowed thr younger, quicker, Canelo to get away, and perhaps if he had gone to the body he would have made the Mexican stay still a little more, and even opened him up for the heavier head shots that could have made the difference.
Those who have seen Golovkin over the last few years will know what to expect from him. He's a strong, powerful boxer-puncher. Technically he's solid with an impressive jab and under-rated footwork. Sadly he's now 36 and just losing that half a step he once had. His power is still impressive, as we saw in May against Vanes Martirosyan, but doesn't look as devastating as it once did and relative lack of speed is obvious in terms of both his footwork and his handspeed, as well as his defense.
Canelo, who was once a front foot fighter who applied pressure and used his physical traits in an imposing manner, has rounded out to be one of the sports better all-rounders. Again Golovkin he showed good movement, an ability to stick to a game plan and excellent counter punching. Sadly one of the issues that has always been a problem for Alvarez is his work rate. Whilst what he landed on Golovkin was quality his actual output was disappointing, and not for the first time it felt like he had ran out of steam to keep up any sort of sustained attack. He had moments but they were fleeting, short lived and tended to consist of a single shot or two.
With 52 bouts under his belt the 28 year old Mexican is a true veteran, with almost 13 years of professional experience behind him. There is a chance that he will age quickly, and he's been in tough bouts against the likes of Golovkin, Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather, who all caught him clean. Saying that however he looked like their was still a lot of miles left on the clock last time out and a year out of the ring since then will certainly do him no harm, allowing him to rest and recover from any niggles he's had. If he's used the time since May wisely he may well be in the best shape of his career, for a bout he simply cannot afford to lose.
We're expecting this bout to be very similar to the first bout between these two. We think, again, that Golovkin will press forward, backing Canelo on the ropes. We also think Canelo will box well off the back foot. The key to winning however will be what changes the fighter makes. If Golovkin can go to the body he increases his chance, if Canelo can increase his output by 10% then he'll probably do enough to take the victory. It really is one where small changes will decide the outcome.
Of the two we think Golovkin will make the changes easier. He has a proven ability to go to the body, breaking down good fighters with body shots. We've never seen Canelo show a great work work rate, especially not against a fighter who can hit him back. We think Golovkin will make the alternation needed, and will do so in a way that the judges won't be able to deny him. We also think that there has been a general downward view on Canelo and where the judges may have favoured him based on fan reaction in the past, that won't be an issue, and the judges may well find themselves scoring the closer rounds to Golovkin, this time around.
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.