The Minimumweight division has been slowly creating a bit of buzz in the last few years. Typically the division has been chronically over-looked but thanks to action fighters like Roman Gonzalez, Katsunari Takayama and Akira Yaegashi we've slowly seen a snowball of interest for the men at 105lbs. That interesting is arguably at it's highest now with several notable champions, and very highly regarded contenders. Champions like Wanehng Menayothin and Hiroto Kyoguchi have certainly gained some for various reasons whilst Knockout CP Freshmart (17-0, 7) has probably the best name in the sport. Contenders like the hard hitting Tsubasa Koura or the amazingly skilled Mark Anthony Barriga add real depth to a division which has often only hand a handful of quality fighters.
This coming weekend the aforementioned Knockout CP Freshmart returns to the ring to defend his WBA Minimumweight title against WBA interim champion Xiong Zhao Zhong (27-7, 14), who was the first ever Chinese male world champion. The bout will be held in Qingdao China and see Knockout fighting outside of Thailand for the first time as a professional boxer.
The unbeaten champion got a lot of attention early in his career due to his memorable ring name, choosing to fight under the “Knokcout” moniker rather than his birth name of Thammanoon Niyomtrong. The former Muay Thai fighter made an immediate impact in professional boxing by claiming a WBC Youth title on debut, back in 2012. He then rose quickly through the ranks before claiming the WBA “interim” Minimumweight title in 2014, when he controversially defeated Carlos Buitrago. In 2016 he unified the interim title with the regular title, by defeating Byron Rojas in a competitive, but less than fantastic bout.
During his reign as the WBA interim, and regular, champion Knockout's reign has really been a mixed bag. He has scored solid wins over Buitrago, dominating a rematch between the two, Rey Loreto and Shin Ono, but also scored some really weak defenses against the likes of Muhammad Rachman, who was 43 at the time and Go Odaira. In the ring he is technically solid, and is improving pretty much with every fight. He's not the quickest, or the biggest punching or even the most energetic, but he's a very good all-rounder, arguably the best all rounder at 105lbs right now and is hard man to look impressive against.
At 35 years old Zhong is one of the division's senior citizens. He debuted back in 2006 and had a pretty slow start to his career, with China not really even being a blip on the boxing map back in 2006. Despite the low key start he did manager to fight for the WBC Flyweight title in 2009, dropping Daisuke Naito before coming up short in a messy bout in Japan.
In 2012 Zhong got his second shot at a world title, and defeated Javier Martinez Resendiz to claim the previously vacant WBC Minimumweight title, creating history by becoming China's first male world champion. He would defend the title twice, scoring a very notable win over Denver Cuello in his first defense, but was surprisingly dethroned in 2014 by Oswaldo Novoa, who stopped Zhong in 5 rounds. Since Zhong lost the WBC title he has had mixed fortunes, going 5-2 though claimed WBA interim title last time out with a very lucky win over Panya Pradbsri, AKA Petchmanee Kokietgym.
At his best Zhong was an awkward, bull like fighter. He lacked the nuances of a real world class fighter, but was tough, strong and hit surprisingly hard. His lack of technical ability has held him back, and whilst he has dropped fighters like Naito and Hekkie Budler the damage has come from his bull like strength and and wild, wide and unorthodox shots, rather than technically accurate boxing skills.
Given the skills and accuracy of Knockout, as well as his edge in youth and speed, we can't see anything but a win for the Thai. If he can stop Zhong it would be impressive, but we're expecting a decision for the Thai, who will dominate in such a way that the judges can't possibly give it to the local.
Interestingly the winner of this will be expected to face off with Byron Rojas, who's team had pushed to get a bout with Knockout before this bout was signed. That would likely lead to a rematch between Knockout and Rojas.
For a second week in a row we get mid-week world title action in Asia, this time in Thailand as WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (16-0, 7) defends his title against Filipino challenger Toto Landero (10-1-2, 2). For the Thai the bout is his 4th defense of the title, which he won from Byron Rojas in June 2016, whilst Landero will be getting his first world title bout.
The unbeaten Thai world champion is one of the best little men in the sport and a genuine world class fighter, who has proven himself time and time again since his professional debut back in 2012. The Thai might only have 16 boxing bouts under his belt but he was a great Muay Thai fighter before turning his hand at Western boxing, and doing so in a 10 rounder for a WBC Youth title. In 2014 he stepped up in class from the Youth competition to the world class level and narrowly beat Carlos Buitrago for the WBA “interim” title. As the interim champion he would really develop his skills whilst making 3 defenses, including a dominant one in a rematch against Buitrago. It was then that he out pointed Rojas for the full version of the title, which he has defended against Shin Ono, Go Odaira and Rey Loreto.
On paper Knockout's defenses of the title haven't been great. Both Ono and Odaira had come up short in previous world title bouts and Loreto had double digit losses, though was in great form and a worthy challenge. Sadly we are now closing in on 2 years since Knockout had his win over over Rojas, and since then we have seen the rocket powered rise of Hiroto Kyoguchi, who looks to be the division's true star in the making.
In the ring Knockout is a solid boxer puncher. He doesn't live up to the “Knockout” moniker but is a solid with a very good ring IQ, a sharp jab and an aggressive mindset. He can fight at a very good pace and appears to take a shot well, though does have question marks about his stamina, having faded late in a number of bouts. He's not the most destructive, the fastest or exciting fighter, but does look like someone who will be hard to beat, especially if he can remain in Thailand where he is used to the unique conditions of day time fights.
We've all had a chance to see the champion but the 22 year old challenger is a bit more of an unknown. He turned professional at the prodigious age of 18 and was 5-0-2 (2) after 7 bouts. During that early run he battled the likes of the then unbeaten Rolly Sumalpong, who gave Ken Shiro problems, and Philip Luis Cuerdo, who both held Landero to a draw, before losing in close rematches to the youngster. His most notable bouts come more recently however with a stoppage loss to Joey Canoy in 2016, with Landero being dropped in rounds 4 and 6 before Silvester Abainza stepped in to stop the bout, and a huge upset win over Vic Saludar last June.
On paper wins over Sumalpong, Cuerdo and Saludar are decent wins, but ones that really suggest he's ready for an OPBF title fight, not a world title fight. Like many at 105lbs however he's getting a shot due to the relative lack of contenders at the weight, especially those willing to travel to Thailand to fight an unbeaten champion. For those wondering that's also part of the reason why we've seen so many contenders, like Ono and Odaira, being recycled in recent years. The win over Salurdar is however a very good one and shows there is real talent with Landero, despite his lack of power.
What we're expecting here is for Landero to fight pretty confidently early on, however Knockout's more rounded skills, strength and power will be too much for the younger man, who will be broken down and likely stopped in the mid-to-late rounds. Landero might have the edge in youth and speed, but that's about it and in the conditions of Thailand you really need brutal power or exceptional skills to beat the champions, and Landero has neither of those. Even on neutral ground he wouldn't have enough for Knockout.
To some boxing fans the lower weight divisions aren't worthy of any attention or time. They are their to be derided, mocked or ignored. Whilst it's a real shame those fans have that view, that doesn't mean others of us can't enjoy those divisions which tend to give us some of the best action bouts and some brilliantly over-looked classics. This coming Saturday we may well get another of those over-looked classics as WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (15-0, 7) defends his title against mandatory challenger Rey Loreto (23-13, 15). On paper the uninformed may well look at the fight with extra derision given the different looking records, with Loreto having almost as many losses as Knockout has total bouts, but to those who know the men this is a mouth watering encounter.
The champion first made waves thanks to his unusual ring name. It was memorable, it was different and even a bit comical. It was also much easier to remember than his birth name of Thammanoon Niyomtrong. He won the WBC Youth title on his debut, just over 5 years ago, and defended it 7 times in total, before giving it up to fight for bigger and better titles. That resulted in Knockout claiming the interim WBA title in 2014 with a controversial win over Carlos Buitrago and since then he has gone from strength to strength, claiming the full title last year with a win over Byron Rojas.
At times in his career Knockout has looked laborious, and clumsy but fight after fight he has improved, with that being obvious in his 2016 rematch with Buitrago. Now the only major flaw that stands out is his questionable stamina, which has seen him running low in later rounds. Other than his stamina issues he looks like a talented, heavy handed and skilled fighter who could well be the best 105lb fighter on the planet. He may not have the 40-something win of compatriot Wanheng Menayothin but wins over Buitrago and Rojas are just as good as the best wins scored by Wanheng, and he's not taken the easy record padding fights that his countryman has.
On paper the challenger looks useless. 13 losses from 36 fights is pretty bad. However they only tell a fraction of the story of Rey Loreto's career. To begin his career he went 0-4, losing all 4 fights in a little over 6 months during 2008. In 2011 he was 8-11 (4), a long way from ever looking like a world title challenger. Then came a run of 7 wins, including a stoppage in Thailand over Wisanu Kokietgym. Aged 21 Loreto was then 15-11 (8) and was a veteran at such a young age. Like a veteran he went through a bad patch, losing 2 of 3 against naturally bigger men, but has since reeled off 8 wins. They have including a technical decision over Pornsawan Porpramook and a 2014 Upset of the Year contender against Nkosinathi Joyi
In the ring Loreto is an aggressive fighter with a great engine, really under-rated power and a great work rate. He might not be the most rounded fighter, or the quickest, or even a particularly technical fighter, but he's incredibly talented and very destructive with natural power, as he showed against Joyi. Also worth noting is he's a southpaw, making him even more feared and showing why he has been relatively avoided in recent years.
We really think this could be something special. Loreto is hungry, he's been forced to wait, he's already a veteran and there is no way he's not going to be putting it all on the line here. He might not be as talented as Knockout but he's certainly hungrier and that could prove to be pretty key in this bout. We think the skills will be the difference, with Knockout winning, but he will have to fight through hellfire to come out on top and Loreto will not be there for loss #14, he'll be there for the title. We suspect this will be an exciting, hard hitting war and something that no fan should be missing out on.
March is set to be an incredibly busy month with major bouts spread across the month. Despite the spread of bouts through the whole of Mach it's fair to say that the first week or so is genuinely hectic with a huge number of big bouts crushed into the first few days of March.
The first of those notable bouts will see WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (14-0, 6) defending his title against Japanese speedster Go Odaira (13-5-3, 1), in what will be Odaira's third world title shot in just over 2 years.
Coming in to the bout Knockout will be a clear favourite, for so many reasons. Not only is the unbeaten champion, and arguably the best fighter at 105lbs. His record may not be he deepest in the division but his recent wins over the likes of Carlos Buitrago, Alexis Diaz, Byron Rojas and Shin Ono have shown that he's a very talented fighter who is consistently developing his skills. He's not longer the powerful but crude fighter he once was and is a much more rounded boxer,
At his worst Knockout is a crude and slow fighter who looks predictable, as we saw in his first bout with Buitrago back in 2014. Since then he has improved significantly, and although he's still not lightening quick he is a much smoother fighter than he used to be. The smoothness has made other issues more visible and last time out, against Ono, he showed real pacing issues and looked exhausted in the later rounds. By then Ono was too far behind to capitalise but a better fighter could make Knockout pay in the future. Interestingly the bout with Ono saw Knockout's KO % fall to just 43% and was his 5th complete 12 rounder in his last 6, suggesting that he may not be the heavy handed puncher once looked like.
In the ring Odaira really is a speedy fighter, much like his mentor Susumu Hanagata. Odaira has lovely hand speed and movement, and is a a fighter who has had much of his success to date based on that speed. Unfortunately though he totally lacks power, physically he's also lacking and can be bullied around and has shown stamina issues of his own, and when his stamina is tested he seems to lack the durability to get through a storm. That has resulted in a 7th round TKO loss to Katsunari Takayama and a 5th round TKO loss to Wanheng Menayothin in his previous world title bouts
Although he has come up short in world title bouts in the past he has proven to be among the best on the Japanese domestic scene with a reign as the Japanese champion. As the domestic champion he recorded 3 defenses, beating the likes of Hiroya Yamamoto, Yuma Iwahashi and Yutaka Sowano. Sadly those defenses were against relatively poor opponents and came before the recent rise of fighters like Tatsuya Fukuhara, Ryuya Yamanaka, Tsubasa Koura, Reiya Konishi, Hiroto Kyoguchi and Masataka Taniguchi, who could have let us see how good Odaira really was.
Whilst Knockout will be the favourite based on his own ability Odaira will also have history working against him, with no Japanese fighter having ever won a world title bout in Thailand. In more than 20 contests Japanese fighters have been rebuked, with the “best” result being Hirofumi Mukai's technical draw with Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Saying that however Odaira has been planning ahead and this will be his third bout on the Land of Smiles and may well call on that experience with the Thai conditions here.
Although Odaira has got some experience of Thailand it's hard to see him having enough skills or experience to survive the 12 rounds with Knockout. Instead we're expecting to see another bout where Odaira starts well before falling apart in the middle rounds. Hopefully with Knockout shining enough to entice some of the new wave of Japanese fighters to challenge him, rather than having to reuse challengers like Odaira and Ono in the future
The Minimumweight division has had a very, very, under-rated year in 2016 with the key part of that being the Thai pairing of WBC champion Wanehng Menayothin, who defeated mandatory challenger Saul Juarez, and WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart (13-0, 6) who scored notable wins over the Nicaraguan pairing of Carlos Buitrago and Byron Rojas. Knockout will look to close out the year with one more notable win as he takes on former OPBF champion Shin Ono (19-7-3, 3).
Knockout, who has fought in title bouts through out his professional boxing career, claimed the WBA interim title in late 2014, with a close win over Carlos Buitrago, but has improved since then as he showed in his second bout with Buitrago. That rematch with Buitrago was Knockout's 3rd defense of the interim title with the talented Thai claiming the full version of title when he out boxed Byron Rojas in June.
At his worst Knockout can look a bit clumsy, a bit stationary and a but lazy in the ring, with his style being a fairly rigid one. Thankfully though it does seem, fight by fight, that he's improving and is becoming a more rounded fighter, taking lessons from every fight he has. That doesn't mean he's a totally rounded fighter but he is one that is showing real improvement. His guard is strong, his footwork is very under-rated and his hands, whilst not concussive, are heavy. Given that he's fighting in Thailand he's also well adjusted to the Thai conditions, has solid stamina, even in the humidity of The land of Smiles, and can step it up if he needs to late in a bout.
At his best Ono is a solid fighter, he's a tricky southpaw with nice movement, nice speed and good skills. He does however lack in terms of power, stamina and in recent fights he has began to look like a 33, soon to be 34, year old who has had a hard career. A May 2015 loss to Katsunari Takayama, for the IBF title, saw Ono impress but it would be 26 months until he would have another bout of note and was dominated by a hungry Kenichi Horikawa, who became the first man to stop Ono. Last time out Ono was being outboxed by Tatsuya Fukuhara before a headclash bailed out Ono with a technical draw.
Through his career Ono has fought numerous notable opponents. That has seen him claim wins over the Toshimasa Ouchi, Yu Kimura, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Omari Kimweri, but the most recent of those notable wins was the win over Kimweri almost 4 years ago. Added to the poor recent form is inactivity, which has seen him fighting just 3 times in the last 24 months, going 1-1-1 during that run.
At his best Ono may have given the worst Knockout a good bout, but the reality is that Ono is a faded fighter and Knockout is a drastically improving one who should be able to bully and break down the challenger, likely ending the bout in the later rounds.
The last few years have been really interesting in the lower weights, even if they have lacked the Western appeal of some of the other weigh classes. The interest has been mostly from Asia, though other countries have had a their own bits of with South Africa having Hekkie Budler and Nicaragua having both Carlos Buitrago and Byron Rojas, who actually defeated Budler earlier this year for the WBA Minimumweight title.
Later this week worlds collide as Rojas (17-2-3-1, 8) travels to Thailand to defend his title against unbeaten “interim” champion Knockout CP Freshmart (12-0 6), one of the rising stars of the Thai scene and a man who holds two wins over the aforementioned Buitrago.
Although his record might not be the most impressive in regards to numbers Rojas has got a legitimate claim to being one of the top guys in the division, with his win over Budler being one of the most credible among the current crop at 105lbs. Notably that was Rojas's 11th straight win not including a No Contest, and saw him continue turning around a career that was once 6-2-3 (4) whilst also claiming a world title on the road in his only fight outside of Nicaragua.
In the ring Rojas is fearless. He's not a big puncher, or the most skilled, or the must elusive or even the quickest but he is a warrior and he comes to fight, comes forward and is in an opponents face as he forces the tempo and pace of a fight. Not only does he control the tempo but he also sets and extremely high one with busy output and a high pressure mentality. Strangely he seems to have a style that is similar to many current Thai's with his pressure output.
Unbeaten fighter Knockout turned professional in 2012, following a lot of success in Muay Thai, and immediately fought for titles, winning the WBC Youth title in his debut. After 8 fights he was regarded as ready for world title level and fought the aforementioned Buitrago, winning a very close decision over the Nicaraguan for the WBA “interim” title. Following that win over Buitrago we've seen Knockout record 3 defenses of the “interim” title and develop significantly, rounding off some very rough edges.
In the ring Knockout does still have clear traits of being a Muay Thai convert despite that it's also clear that he's a true fighter and is constantly improving, developing his boxing skills and adapting to the Western boxing style. He's aggressive, a solid puncher and is developing his defensive abilities every fight, and actually looked defensively responsible last time out in a rematch against Buitrago, with his head movement being genuinely impressive.
Coming in to this one we're expecting something very exciting with Rojas going to Thailand for a fight with Knockout, and going there to really fight. Unfortunately in Thailand the conditions are harsh and fighting like Rojas does could be a very tough ask for 12 rounds. We suspect he'll start fast before the conditions begin to get to him slow him and inevitably allow Knockout to earn a decision win.
Over the coming week Thai fans will get a couple of notable rematches on the fringes of world level. The first of those comes on Thursday when the unbeaten Knockout CP Freshmart (11-0, 6) [น็อคเอาท์ ซีพีเฟรชมาร์ท] faces the excellent Nicaraguan Carlos Buitrago (28-1-1-1, 16) in a bout for the WBA “regular” Minimumweight title.
These two men met back in October 2014 in a very hotly contest bout that Knockout won, via unanimous decision. That bout was Kncokout's coming out party in many ways and although he failed to shine he did get the all important win whilst Buitrago was left feeling heart broken by the judges, for the second time following a draw with Merlito Sabillo the previous year.
Since their first meeting neither has been hugely active. Buitrago has fought just once, beating Mario Rodriguez last March, whilst Knockout has fought twice, beating Muhammad Rachman and Alexis Diaz.
Of those bouts Buitrago did look highly impressive beating Rodriguez, dropping the Mexican twice and securing a 10 round decision win. For Knockout the win over Rachman was relatively straight forward, but he did get taken 12 rounds, whilst the win over Diaz was essentially a 1-sided beat down after a competitive opening round. That Diaz bout showed how good Knockout can be, though also said a lot about Diaz's limitations.
In the ring Buitrago really is a joy to watch with his boxing and combinations being a key to his offensive work. He is regarded as a protégé of the sensational Roman Gonzalez and whilst he's not as good as Gonzalez he is just as fun to watch with very fluid punches, a lovely arsenal of punches, real spite, excellent movement and wonderful speed. He has shown very few faults and, with a more powerful team behind him, he could very easily have an unbeaten record right now, and a world title.
Sadly for Buitrago his promoter doesn't have the power to drag champions away from home and whilst that has seen Buitrago collect stamps on his passport, with bouts in the US, Mexico, Philippines and Thailand, it has also cost him in his two most notable bouts.
Whilst Buitrago is a beautiful to watch boxer the same cannot be said for Knockout, however that's not to say it's not enjoyable to see Knockout in the ring. He's more of a boxer-puncher, with an aggressive mentality and a come-forth style that can look fundamentally flawed but is hard to avoid. He's defensively tight, heavy handed and the sort of fighter who looks like he will walk through hell fire to land his shots, if he needs to. He's slower, and smaller, than Buitrago but is the more physically imposing and of course has home advantage, a big advantage in Thailand.
Prior to becoming a boxer Knockout was a standout Muay Thai fighter, a triple crown winner and one of the best active fighters in the sport. His style as a boxer is more fluid than that of many Muay Thai fighters who turn over to Western boxing, but there are fundamental flaws in what he does at times and he often seems to struggle transitioning from defense to offense.
When the two men get in to the ring this coming Thursday we're expecting a very close bout, and again we're expecting to see the judges play a key role. Unfortunately for Buitrago we suspect those will again side with the home fighter who will likely take another very close decision in a bout that is more intense than their first meeting. Unfortunately for Buitrago we see not only the travelling being an issue but also the inactivity with just 10 rounds in the last 16 months. That type of inactivity will likely cost Buitrago some of his ring sharpness and allow Knockout a better start than he had last time out.
We all hate the proliferation of “interim” titles from the WBA. They are, of course, a way for the WBA to line their pockets with additional sanctioning fees. Despite our issues with the “interim” titles they do, occasionally, give us some good match ups. One such match up occurred last year when Knockout CP Freshmart (now 10-0, 5) defeated Carlos Buitrago to claim the WBA “interim” Minimumweight title. We get another mouth watering title bout at the start of July as Knockout makes the second defense of his title and takes on fellow unbeaten Alexis Diaz (16-0, 10).
Back in the old days, when titles weren't handed out by the WBA like candy, this would have been an excellent eliminator style bout to face the “real” champion. With so many belts out there however we see the two men throwing leather for a belt even one as fake and “plastic” as this. Despite the the fake belt...the bout it's self is brilliant and the sort of thing we, as fans, love to see. Well matched and with both men seeking a big win.
Anyway on to the fighters. Knockout CP Freshmart is probably the holder of the best name in the sport, and he's also a really solid boxer-puncher. He turned pro following a very successful Muay Thai career. It was due to that background that Knockout's team put him straight into 10 round bouts, and on his debut he claimed the WBC Youth title.
Following 7 defenses of the WBC youth strap Knockout took on Buitrago in an excellent match up for the interim title. Sadly for Knockout the bout showed a lot of his flaws, despite the fact he got the win. For much of the bout Knockout looked predictable and came forward in relative straight lines whilst being tagged by Buitrago's sharp rangy shots. In the end Knockout, who did look strong and aggressive, got the decision partly due to where the fight was as opposed to legitimately “winning” it. Despite the less than sensational performance Knockout answered plenty of questions and proved he was tough, strong, aggressive and had the tank for 12 rounds fought at a good pace. It was clear that he wasn't the most illusive, or a monster puncher, but he was always gong to be coming forward and always looking to make things a fight.
Whilst “Knockout” isn't exactly the most apt name for the Thai, who is now at a 50% stoppage rate and has stopped just 2 of his last 6, the named has served 2 purposes. Firstly it's summed up his style which sees him fighting for the knockout, even if he doesn't tend to get it all that regularly now a days. Secondly it has got him real attention in the west, a remarkable for a Minimumweight from Thailand.
Aged 28 this is set to be the biggest fight so far for Diaz, a very promising fighter from Venezuela who has a been a professional for around 4 years and has never previously fought outside of Latin America. In fact just 5 of his 16 bouts have been outside of his homeland, with 4 of those 5 taking place in neighbouring Colombia. Although now a Minimumweight Diaz began his career at Flyweight and has been as high as 114¾lbs, before setting down at a much lower weight.
Although a relative unknown outside of the Latin American scene Diaz has been carving out a successful career and already holds notable wins over the likes of Ronald Ramos, Jorle Estrada and Luis De la Rosa. Those wins have won his praise with many who follow the lower weights and have seen him in action, likewise he has impressed with his power, skills and style.
Footage of Diaz isn't that easy to find though what does exist makes him look like a power, hard hitting, aggressive and quick fighter. He does look a bit crude at times but he look so strong and powerful that he could be a serious threat for most fighters in the division, he also appears to be big at the weight and very rangy.
Having seen what footage of Diaz was available he looks like a real threat to Knockout. It looks like Diaz hits harder, is faster and equally as strong. Knockout is possibly a bit stronger and more refined but not by a lot. What we're expecting is for the two men to really let their hands go and for Diaz to have an excellent start. If Knockout can see out the early storm then we'll see what Diaz is really made of, though it does seem like he will be a handful through out the bout.
One thing going in Knockout's favour, big time, is the fact the fight it in Thailand in hellish conditions for visiting fighters. Thailand is the country we often suggest is the most difficult country to get a win in and we suspect we'll see that here with Diaz coming up short on the cards despite a stirring effort. There is, of course, a chance he won't travel well though we expect he'll really put on a show and lose a controversial decision.
(Image courtesy of thairec.com)
The Minimumweight division may have been widely ignored by the casual fans through it's short history but it's a division which has given us a lot of great fights in recent years. Those fights have including unification wars, such as the Kazuto Ioka/Akira Yaegashi fight from back in 2012, or this year's scintillating war between Katsunari Takayama and Francisco Rodriguez Jr, as well as single-title slug fests like Yaegashi's war with Pornnsawan Porpramook. Sadly whilst the division is one of the very best for fans who enjoy a great fight it's also been a disappointing year for Asian fighters with 3 Asian's losing Minimumweight world titles already this year.
One of those 3 men was China's Xiong Zhao Zhong (24-5-1, 14) who had his WBC title taken in shocking fashion when he met Oswaldo Novoa and was dominated by the Mexican under-dog. Whilst it's fair to say we all under-rated Novoa, who was a relative unknown, it was still an huge upset and one of the most shocking results of the year, especially given that the bout was fought in Zhong's native China.
Zhong went into that bout as the first and only Chinese world champion. This coming weekend Zhong will attempt to become China's first 2-time world champion as he attempts to claim the WBA title from the highly regarded South African speedster Hekkie Budler (26-1, 9), a man looking for back-to-back wins against Asian fighters following his stoppage victory last time out against Pigmy Kokietgym, and in fact he'll be hunting his 4th successive stoppage.
Although a divisive fighter Zhong is someone we respect even if we don't consider ourselves fans of his. He is the figure head of Chinese boxing in the mainland and although he's over-shadowed by Zou Shiming's fights in Macau Zhong has achieved more as a professional than any other Chinese fighter. He's done that not through skill and ability but sheer tenacity, bravery, natural strength and toughness, both mentally and physically.
Zhong is one of the most diminutive professional boxers in the sport right now and even for a Minimumweight he's short. Despite his lack of height he is built like a tank and looks strong, powerful and muscular for a guy fighting in the sports lowest weight class. It's that power and toughness that has seen him achieve what he has in his career. Strangely for a fighter built like he is however Zhong isn't a big puncher and instead needs to grind opponents for stoppages. Against lower tier fighters that works perfect, as shown in his some what embarrassing win over Thailand's Lookrak Kiatmungmee. Against the better fighters that he has faced however he has struggled to really impose himself due to a lack of technical ability and a relative lack of speed compared to his fellow Minimumweights. And although some may point out that he holds a win over the exceptional Denver Cuello, those people do need to note that that came more from Cuello's health issues as opposed to Zhong's actual boxing ability.
If we accept that Zhong is like a tank, with power and rugged toughness then Budler is like the opposite. He's tough like Zhong but trades off on his speed as opposed to power. Budler is quick, sharp and highly skilled. He's a fighter who will land 2 or 3 punches whilst an opponent is thinking about their next move and then he'll get out of range before an opponent can reply. It's his speed, both with feet and hands, that makes Budler such a brilliant fighter in the division and one of the men that could become a long reigning champion at the weight.
What Budler has done over the years is improve and develop. Watching him from 2010 and 2011 he looked like a man who was going to struggle to advance. It was during that time the Budler suffered his sole loss, a split decision to fellow South African Gideon Buthelezi, and struggled with the likes of Juanito Rubillar and Evaristo Primero, since then though he has improved drastically and become his own fighter, as shown in his wins over the likes of Florante Condes and Nkosinathi Joyi.
Whilst sometimes the limited but stronger fighter can over-come the quicker and more skilled fighter those bouts are rare and we suspect that Budler will be too quick, too smart and too good for Zhong. The Chinese fighter is likely to be tough and game throughout but unlikely to actually be competitive in terms of winning rounds. He'll make Budler work in stages but not enough to really mount a serious challenger in a bout that will help enhance the standing of the South African fighter.
If he wins here wouldn't say Budler was the de facto #1 in the division but it looks to be between him and Francisco Rodriguez Jr and a bout between those two would, in our eyes, be for the #1 position. Hopefully 2015 will bring us a contest like that or we'll get the chance to see Katsunari Takayama share the ring with one of them with the Japanese fighter certainly still a proven top tier fighter in the division.
(Image courtesy of Zovi.cn)
Whilst many fight fans over-look the smallest division in the sport we genuinely love the Minimumweight division and consider Katsunari Takayama as one of our favourites due to his willingness to fight anyone. Amongst those that Takayama has been linked to in recent months is South Africa's WBA champion Hekkie "The Hexecutioner" Budler (25-1, 8).
Budler is widely regarded as either the #1 or the #2 fighter in the division along with Takayama who fills out the top 2 with most fans and independent rankings.
Although not much of a puncher Budler is still a nightmare to fight. He's quick on his feet, accurate with his punches and is very sharp with his shots which are often thrown in buzzsaw like combinations. It's not that he's going to knock out rivals regularly or hurt them but he's going to keep stinging them until whilst making them miss, a bit like Takayama does when he's at his best.
The lack of power hasn't prevented Budler from becoming an elite level buzzsaw who has managed to score notable wins against the likes of Florante Condes and Nkosinathi Joyi, both of whom are world class fighters even if they were slightly on the slide to what they were once.
This weekend sees Budler defending his WBA title against experienced Thai Pigmy Kokietgym (52-6-2, 22) who is stepping up to world class for just the second time in his long career.
The 32 year old Pigmy debuted way back in 1999 and began his career with an unconvincing 12-5-1 (8). Since then however he gone an amazing 40-1-1 (14) and established himself as one of the busiest men on the Thai boxing scene with around 4 bouts per year for the last 10 years. Of course, as we all know, Thai's are busy fighters though tend to fight a lot of poor fighters in an attempt to just stay busy and keep paydays coming in and unfortunately this has been the case with Pigmy who's most notable wins have come against very limited opponents.
Although he has 60 fights on his record Pigmy has only fought in 1 world title fight, losing that to the then unbeaten Kwanthai Sithmorseng on November 2010 via a split decision. Although he gave a great account of himself in that fight he still came up short and has been effectively put on the side until now.
Much like Budler, Pigmy is a fighter who basis his work on speed and tries to break down fighters or out point them with volume as opposed to blasting through opponents. He's not quite as sharp or technically correct as Budler but he's got the Thai warrior mentality and will continually take the fight to an opponent meaning that this could be a very interesting contest to watch.
Sadly for Pigmy the deck is stacked against him and whilst stylistically he and the South African are similar everything else is against the Thai. Pigmy at 32 years old, is getting on for a Minimumweight whilst the 26 year old Budler is just hitting his prime, the fight will be in Monaco on a show promoted by Golden Gloves Promotions, the company who back Budler, and it'll be the first bout outside of Asia for Pigmy.
We're expecting a very fun to watch battle here with both men throwing a hell of a lot at the other but unfortunately for Pigmy we simply can't see him over-coming the smarter, faster and every so slightly more powerful South African who appears to have all the advantages both out of the ring and in the ring. Thankfully with all the action we're expecting we're unlikely to find much to complain about after the fight which we're hoping could steal the show.
(Image courtesy of Golden Gloves Promotions, unfortunately it only features Budler and Martin Murray and not Pigmy)
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.