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
One of the biggest rivalries in world boxing is the under-rated Japan Vs Thailand rivalry. It's not as widely reported at the Puerto Rico Vs Mexico rivalry but it's as good as we get to Asia's answer, and has given us some historic battles over the years including the likes of Joichiro Tatsuyoshi Vs Sirimongkol Singwancha.
On June 19th we see the next chapter in that rivalry as WBA "Super" and Ring magazine Light Flyweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (12-0, 9) defends his titles against Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart (11-0, 5), aka Tanawat Nakooon. For Kyoguchi this will be his first defense of the two titles he won in December, when he stopped Hekkie Budler, whilst Satanmuanglek will be taking a huge step up for his first world title fight.
The Japanese fighter was a notable amateur before he turned professional just over 3 years ago with the Watanabe Gym in Tokyo. He was raced to his first title, the OPBF Minimumweight title,after less than 11 months, and would take the IBF Minimumweight title just 15 months after his debut. It was the quickest rise of any Japanese fighter to their first world title. He would add to his title collection last December, when he became a 2-weight champion, in just his 12th professional bout, and became the first man to stop South African Hekkie Budler. Whilst that's not quite as a impressive as Kosei Tanaka or Naoya Inoue its still an incredibly impressive feat from the baby faced 25 year old.
Despite having been a profession for just over 3 years Kyoguchi has a strong resume, with wins over Jose Argumedo, Carlos Buitrago and Hekkie Budler being the best of them. Through his career he has shown an exciting pressure style, backed with good boxing skills, decent defense and aggressive footwork. His uses a fantastic heavy jab to close the distance and when up close he goes to town with spiteful uppercuts and ripping body shots. The combinations, pressure and power will be far too much for many opponents, and it's clear that it will take a very special fighter to dethrone the rising Japanese star.
Satanmuanglek, unlike Kyoguchi, wasn't an amateur standout. Instead he was a Muay Thai star, fighting as Satanmuanglek Numpornthep, and really shone in the art of 8 limbs. It was due to his Muay Thai experience that there was real excitement when he turned his hand to professional boxing 2017. Sadly his early career as a boxer was uninspired with wins against the usual array of over-mathced Indonesian and Filipino journeyman, such as Silem Serang, Maktison Marganti and Geboi Mansalayao. He did step up his level of competition last year, scoring a career best win over Marco John Rementizo, though he was pushed all the way in that bout showing that he still had a lot of work to do before being ready for a world title fight.
In the ring Satanmuanglek is a physically strong southpaw who has a nice jab, and decent speed. On the front foot he's solid, with a nice variety of shots and he does apply consistent, smart pressure whilst breaking opponents down with accurate heavy shots. Sadly for him things are very different on the back foot and when forced backwards, as he was against Rementizo, he looks like a very different fighter, with defensive flaws showing through regularly. Also when forced on to the back foot his work rate drops and his punches look like he is reaching to land, rather than punching through the target.
Given how vicious and intelligent and incessant Kyoguchi's pressure is, and the real issues Satanmuanglek had with Rementizo it's hard to see anything but a successful defense for the Japanese fighter. Satanmuanglek is tough, he proved that in his Muay Thai career, but we really struggle to see him putting up with the body shots of Kyoguchi. We think they will be the cause of his pain, and will cause the bout to be concluded before the championship rounds.
Prediction - Kyoguchi TKO7
This coming Saturday we'll see WBA Flyweight champion Artem Dalakian (18-0, 13) make a mandatory defense of his title as he takes on Thai foe Dennapa Kiatniwat (20-1, 15)*, aka Sarawut Thawornkham, in Kiev, Ukraine. On paper this looks interesting, but in reality the paper only tells us part of the story. For example the bout will be the Thai's first world title fight, it will be a huge step up in class and his second bout outside of Thailand, whilst Dalakian will be seeking his third defense of the WBA title and comes into the bout riding a huge wave of confidence following 3 impressive wins in 2018.
So lets look at the men involved.
The 31 year old Dalakian is an Azeri born Ukrainian who had a notable amateur career, and competed at the 2009 World Amateur Champions, pushing future world champion Amnat Ruenroeng all the way. He would later turn professional in 2011 and has gone unbeaten since then. Although unbeaten since he became a professional it wasn't until 2018 that he really got any attention from the boxing world. That was a year where he was given a chance, and defeat Brian Viloria to become the WBA Flyweight champion, doing so in the US. Since then he has notched up defenses against Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep and Gregorio Lebron. Prior to beating Viloria there was little on his record, with wins over veteran Silvio Olteanu and a then inexperienced Angel Moreno being the only wins of any note.
In the ring Dalakian is a talented boxer-puncher. He's not the most talented boxer in the division, or the hard hitter, but he combines his boxing and power excellently, with long reach, an awkward style, and good consistent aggression. He's not going to wipe world class opponents out, but he's going to be a nightmare for anyone with his strength and size being real problems. He's also tough, though was hurt at times by Viloira, strong and a fighter who looks really hard to beat. It's also worth noting he's well backed, and there's only a handful of fighters who will be able to afford home advantage against him.
Kiatniwat is real obscurity for those who don't follow the Asian scene in depth, and the reality is that those who do follow him will be aware he doesn't belong in a world title fight. He lost on his debut, being stopped by Masato Morisaki in May 2014, but has reeled off 20* straight wins since then. That sounds impressive, but the best of his wins have been against the likes of Tommy Seran, Crison Omayao and Michael Camelion. To put those into some context, Omayao is a blown Minimumweight, who Naoya Inoue beat on his debut, Michael Camelion was blasted in 33 seconds by Hiroto Kyoguchi back in 2016 and Tommy Seran has won just 1 of his last 9 bouts.
From the footage that's available the Thai does look pretty good offensively, having a nice body attack, some short punching up close and a good jab. He fights out of the southpaw stance and does look solid, though given his competition he is very unproven and it's hard to say whether his power really can carry up. Defensively there are more worried and he has been tagged by fighters much less skilled than Dalakanian, and can often be seen with a very low lead right hand.
We suspect most see this as a mismatch in favour of Dalakian, and if we're being honest we don't see anything but a Dalakian win. Although we strongly favour Dalakian we do however expect to see Dennapa asking some questions of Dalakian, with the Thai's body shots and southpaw stance posing a few issues. We're going to suggest that Dennapa actually give Dalakian toughest fight to date, but suffers a late stoppage to the Ukrainian.
Prediction - Dalakian TKO10
*There are some questions over Kiatniwat's real record with at least 1 bout of his beign televised but not being listed on boxrec.com
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On May 26, Sho Kimura aims to become a 2 division king as he faces the undefeated Carlos Canizales for the WBA (Regular) Light Flyweight World championship, in Fuzhou, China.
Sho Kimura (18-2 / 11 KOs) despite suffering a KO loss on his pro debut, he quickly bounced back, amassing 12 wins within 3 years, as well as the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title after a heated battle with Masahiro Sakamoto (13-2).
In 2017, Kimura’s biggest test took place in China when he challenged the WBO Flyweight World champion Shiming Zou (9-2). A 2 time Olympic champion & 3 times AIBA World champion, the Chinese fighter held victories over fellow accomplished amateur boxers and future World title holders like Nordine Oubaali, Amnat Ruenroeng and Rau'shee Warren. Kimura, who was coming in as the underdog and was even fighting the champion in his own country, weakened his opponent with body shots throughout the match and eventually delivered a lethal combination during the 11th round, connecting almost a dozen times with Zou’s head, to put a stop to their encounter and to win the big one.
Kimura made his triumphant return to Japan, on December of the same year, defending against the former WBC, The Ring and Lineal Flyweight World champion Toshiyuki Igarashi (23-3). Unbeaten close to 5 years, Igarashi was overwhelmed early on in the fight by Sho’s aggressive style, suffering a lot of damage, while offering almost no offense of his own. The action picked up in the later rounds, as both men started swinging for the fences, bringing the fans to their feet. Finally the end came in the 9th after he landed a straight right hand, stunning the challenger, sending him back to a corner and finishing him off with a flurry of punches. It’s worth mentioning that neither Zou nor Igarashi had ever been stopped before in their careers.
After dispatching Froilan Saludar (30-3) for an easy second title defense, Kimura lost a majority decision to now 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka (13-0) in what was considered the best Japanese fight of 2018. 6 months later, he came back against Wicha Phulaikhao (60-11), showing no signs of ring rust, completely dominating the Thai veteran and even dropping him thrice with uppercuts in the 3rd round, earning his 11th stoppage victory and setting his sights on a second World title reign.
Carlos Canizales (21-0 / 17 KOs) made his debut in 2014, winning 19 fights in a row, all transpiring in his home country of Venezuela. After a close encounter with the WBA (Super) Light Flyweight World champion Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4), which ended in a draw, he received another shot, this time at the vacant Regular title, against Reiya Konishi (17-1) in March of last year. The Japanese champion was also undefeated at the time with 15 victories under his belt. Canizales once again found himself in a tough contest, going back and forth, but was more in control than in his previous bout, scoring also a knockdown in the 3rd round and eventually earning a unanimous decision and of course the strap.
“Triple C” met accomplished amateur star & AIBA Youth World champion Lu Bin for his inaugural WBA title defense. This was the Chinese fighter’s second only match as a pro. Canizales outclassed Bin, throwing and landing way more punches, sealing the deal in the last round after he floored him with a right straight.
Both Kimura and Canizales are action fighters. They like to throw more and hard, than less but accurate. Stylistically it’s a dream match. Even though this might go to deep waters, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t need the judges in the end. Comparing the caliber of opponents they’ve faced, it’s clear that Kimura has gone up against better competition (for example: Shiming Zou – Olympic champion, Lu Bin – AIBA Youth champion) plus he knows how to work the body more efficiently than the Venezuelan. To conclude with, Kimura is most likely to leave China once again with the gold, but at the same time, there’s a reason Canizales is 21-0-1 in his professional career. Either way, their fight will certainly be a blast !
Earlier this year China saw it's baby faced punching machine Can Xu (16-2, 2) announce himself on the global stage with an upset win in the US over Jesus M Rojas, to become the WBA "regular" Featherweight champion. The win was a notable upset, especially given how bad Xu had looked on his US debut, and saw the feather fisted "Monster", don't ask, show off his fun style, his incredible toughness and his wonderful personality.
This coming weekend Xu heads back to a Chinese ring as he looks to make the first defense of his title, and unlike many who would take on an easy first defense he will actually go up against former WBA "regular" Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo (13-1, 9) in what is a really nice looking match up.
Xu, as we all saw against Rojas, is a tough, gutsy guy with an incredible work rate. His shots don't have much on them individually but the sheer number of punches he throws is incredible and he does wear people out mentally as well as physically. He combines an insane output with a gritty toughness, that we saw not only against Rojas but also against the likes of Spicy Matsushita, Nehomar Cermeno and Hurricane Futa, among others.
His combination of toughness and output has seen him winning his last 13 fights and becoming the new face of Chinese boxing. That's admittedly not a position that has given us a lot of big names, but puts him in a small group along with Xiang Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, as Chinese world champions and focal points in Chinese boxing history.
Xu isn't likely to be a big star world wide, despite his style, but for Chinese boxing he is a potential center point to build off over the coming years. He's only 25, he's promoted by China's bigger promoter Max Power Promotions, and could be finding himself as someone to inspire the next generation of fighters. The hope once was that Zou Shiming would do that, but he was too old when he turned professional and although interesting outside of the ring he wasn't fun to watch, his fighters didn't see a lot of punches aren't weren't exciting. Xu is fun, young, exciting and oozes natural charisma, which can appeal to local fans and international ones.
As previously mentioned Kubo is a former "regular" champion at 122lbs. Whilst he was fighting at Super Bantamweight he was regarded as a fast rising hopeful, and scored early career wins over the likes of Monico Laurente and Luis May before taking the OPBF title in 2015. In the eyes of many he was the new hope of the Shinsei gym, and winning the OPBF title in just his 9th fight showed that they were going to be pushing to be the replacement for Hozumi Hasegawa at the top of the Shinsei stable. Less than 18 months after his OPBF win he would defeat Nehomar Cermeno for the WBA "regular title", with Cemerno retiring between rounds 10 and 11. It's worth noting that Cermeno had won and defended his belt, twice, in China becoming a bit of a name there, so beating Cermeno would have got Kubo some attention in China.
Sadly Kubo's reign was short and he lost the belt less than 5 months later when he dominated by Danny Roman, who has now run up 4 defenses and unified the WBA and IBF titles suggesting that a lott to Roman isn't something to be ashamed by. Since losing the belt Kubo has scored a single win, moving up to Featherweight and narrowly out pointing Hiroshige Osawa. Sadly a planned follow up was cancelled late last year when Kubo was suffering issues with his sight, though he has receieved treatment and things are said to be sorted with his eyes now.
In the ring Kubo is a pretty basic fighter. He's gangly, long and has impressive size, and will have that at Featheweight, but doesn't do anything specially well. He has a solid enough jab and a decent left hook to the body but there is nothing that makes you think he's world class, other than his desire and will to win. In fact if anything he's shown a suspect chin, a lack of power and some naivety. Despite his flaws he does have success, his heart is incredible and he knows how to use his size. He's not only awkward in terms of reach and height but also due to being a southpaw and he does do a lot that's nice, as opposed to exceptional.
We think Kubo could ask questions of Xu, especially early on when he can land some body shots and is fresh enough to get his punches off. As the fight wears on however we expect to see Xu's pressure, work rate and aggression be the difference, and for the Chinese fighter to retain his title.
We're expecting Kubo to survive the distance, but wouldn't be hugely shocked by a late a stoppage for Xu, despite his reputation as a none-puncher.
Prediction Xu UD12
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.