Earlier this month we saw the WBC, WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles being fought for in Japan, with some excellent bouts in Saitama. The one missing belt from that show was the WBO belt which will be fought for at on November 30th when WBO champion Zolani Tete (28-3, 21) takes on WBO "interim" champion John Riel Casimero (28-4, 19). On paper this looks a fantastic bout, between two men with very similar records, but very different styles, and very different mentalities, but both men will be looking to state their case as a future opponent for WBSS winner Naoya Inoue.
South African fighter Tete was part of the WBSS when it started in 2018. He struggled in his first bout, a stinker against former amateur standout Mikhail "Misha" Aloyan, before pulling out of his semi final against Nonito Donaire due to an injury. That injury has meant Tete has been out of action for over a year and is more than 2 years removed from his explosive win over Siboniso Gonya. As a result of injury and a couple of poor performances Tete has gone from being one of the top dogs at Bantamweight, to an almost forgotten man and the 31 year old desperately needs an impressive performance.
Stood at 5'9" and fighting out of the Southpaw stance Tete is an awkward Bantamweight. He's all arms and legs and when he's on point he's a real nightmare. He's skilled, tough, quick and a very sharp puncher. His KO win over Paul Butler in 2015 showed just how good he can be. Sadly though he's awkward, and we don't just mean an awkward fighter for opponents. He can, when he's not firing at 100%, be very awkward to watch and safety conscious. He showed that side of himself against Arthur Villanueva and Omar Andres Narvaez, and didn't look much better against Aloyan either, in what really was a stinker.
Whilst Tete is a long, rangy, boxer-puncher Casimero is the opposite. The 30 year old Filipino is a short, relatively wild, puncher-come-slugger. When he's in the mood to box, he can box, but all too often Casimero fights with the intention of taking his opponents, out, and do so quickly. He has scored 6 stoppages in his last 7 bouts, and during his long career he has stopped the likes of Cesar Canchila, Luis Alberto Lazarte, Amnat Ruenroeng and Charlie Edwards. Not only has he been a slugger, but he is also one of the sports best road warriors, with wins all over the place. From Nicaragua to Thailand, from Panama to China, from the UK to the Argentina, Casimero has never shown any fear of being in his opponents back yard.
At 5'4" Casimero is a small Bantamweight, he will be giving away significant size and reach to most fighters in the division. In part that's down to the fact this is actually his 4th weight class, with Casimero having first won a world title at Light Flyweight, before claiming one at Flyweight. He failed to reach the top at Super Flyweight but has managed to make a mark at Bantamweight with his interim title win, and a defense of that title. He has certainly has looked rejuvenated, after a terrible outing against Jonas Sultan back in 2017.
Coming in to the bout the logical view is that Tete will be too quick, too sharp, too long, too quick and too smart. We however feel that the poor performances of Tete recently, added to the injury and time out could end up being a major issue here. Casimero isn't a polished boxer, but he is a puncher, he is aggressive and he is a nightmare for someone with ring rust.
We suspect that Tete will start well, but as the bout goes on Casimero's power punching and pressure will take it's toll as Tete slows down and turns off. We suspect the power of Casimero will eventually break down the South African and take a late win.
Prediction - TKO11 Casimero
Over the last few years the Light Flyweight division has been one of the few divisions which has given us thriller, after thriller, after thriller. The division has so much talent, and has had for years, that the world title bouts we're seeing there have been, for the most part, well matched, exciting and thoroughly entertaining.
This coming Thursday we're expecting another interesting bout in the division as WBO champion Elwin Soto (15-1, 11) defends his belt against unbeaten Filipino challenger Edward Heno (14-0-5, 5). On paper this looks like a delicious match up between hard hitting champion and skilled unbeaten challenger, but how do we expect it to go? And who are Elwin Soto and Edward Heno?
The champion is a 22 year old who really was an unknown until earlier this year, when he upset Angel Acosta for the title. The win over Acosta was a genuine upset, and was also a rather controversial one with the referee jumping in very quickly when Acosta was hurt. The stoppage was one of the worst of the year, and Acosta was furious about it, though the referee's decision can't be held against Soto. Sadly that is one of only 2 notable wins for Soto, who also beaten former IBF Minimumweight champion Mario Rodriguez in 2018. Whilst his competition hasn't been great Soto has shown enough to be very excited about. He's a very hard hitting fighter, who appears to take a shot very well himself, having never been down as a professional. His body punching is excellent and he has power late in the bout with some lovely combinations.
Dubbed "La Pulga" Soto is one of the hidden gems of the Light Flyweight division, and although he has a lot of question still to answer, such as questions over his stamina and his defense, he looks like a brilliant young fighter with a bright future ahead. The one thing that did show up against Acosta was that Soto slowed down a lot in the later rounds, and he got caught a lot but never looked hurt and showed great composure throughout.
Whilst Soto seemingly came out of nowhere to become a world champion Heno has been on the fringes for a couple of years now. He made his debut in 2011, and drew his first 3 bouts, but has really come into his own since 2017. He took the unbeaten record of countryman Cris Ganoza in March 2017, went over to Japan and was robbed of a win over Seita Ogido, before stopping to become the OPBF champion. Since winning the OPBF title Ogido has made 3 defenses, beating former world champion Melito Sabillo, the once touted Jesse Espinas and Japanese veteran Koji Itagaki. Sadly footage of Heno is scarce, despite having a number of bouts streamed at the time, however he is a talented, and smart fighter with a good jab and a intelligent defense. Sadly his lack of power is an issue, especially at world level, however he has the skills to be a nightmare.
Heno is a real natural boxing talent however his lack of power against a bully like Soto could be an issue. Soto won't respect him early on, and could put the Filipino under a lot of early pressure. We suspect Heno will see out the early storm against Soto, but the middle rounds will be incredibly tough for the challenger. If he can survive that then he has the experience over 12 rounds to fight strong down the stretch. It is however, a big ask for Heno to survive those middle rounds.
We'd love to see Heno win, but in reality we think he's up against one of the sports true hidden gems here and this is a huge ask for him. He'll give it a go, but the pressure and power of Soto will be too much.
Prediction TKO8 Soto
This coming Saturday fight fans in Las Vegas will see a legendary Filipino name return to world title action, albeit not the man who made the name famous but instead his grandson.
The legendary name in question is Elorde, best known for the great Gabriel "Flash" Elorde who's grand son Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1, 15) challenges WBO Super Bantamweight champion Emanuel Navarrete (28-1, 24) on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. For the champion this will be his third defense, since winning the title last December, whilst Elorde will be getting his first bout at this level, and will be entering as a huge under-dog.
The Mexican champion had been on the verge of a break out for a while, with those who follow the Latin American scene tipping him as a hugely talented, exciting, and destructive prospect. Last year he got a chance, taking on Isaac Dogboe, and impressed as he out pointed the popular Dogboe over 12 rounds to claim the WBO title. Since then he has really been on a roll, seeing his standing in the sport increase with a stoppage win over Dogboe in a rematch and a quick blow out over Francisco Da Vaca in August.
In the ring Navarrete is a legitimate monster. He's a strong, powerful, hard hitting and rugged Mexican who, at 5'7" is huge for the weight. Although he's an aggressive fighting machine he's actually quite a smart fighter, and not as reckless as he sometimes appears. He gets inside well, with quick footwork and unloads hooks, uppercuts and straights up close. He combines his excellent offensive output with a real rugged toughness and it looks like it's going to take a very, very special fighter to beat him....unless making weight beats him first. In many ways he's a little bit similar to former Welterweight champion Antonio Margarito, and like Margarito he rarely takes a step backwards, so one thing we would like to see, one day, is a fighter really put him on the back foot. Sadly we don't expect to see that here.
At 32 years old Elorde will be getting his first world title fight, and likely his last. Despite the Super Bantamweight division being a low key solid one he is some how ranked #1 by the WBO, who genuinely have awful rankings in the division. To date his best win was his most recent, a very competitive decision over Japan's Shohei Kawashima, a decision that many felt Elorde was fortunate to get. That was his 18th straight win, but one of very few against fighters of any note, with perhaps the next most notable being a 2018 decision win over Lucky Tor Buamas. That's not to say he's a bad fighter, but one who's going from fringe regional level to world class, having only really touched regional title level a couple of times.
Given that the Philippines, alone, has fighters in the division like Albert Pagara, Marlon Tapales, Jeo Santisima and Mark Anthony Geraldo, an argument could be made that Elorde is only the 5th best in his homeland. And he may actually be outside the top 10 best actually competing in Asia, behind the likes of Ryosuke Iwasa, Yusaku Kuga, Shingo Wake, Tomoki Kameda, Hiroaki Teshigawa and Yukinori Oguni.
Although Elorde's #1WBO ranking is a joke he's technically a decent fighter, with a nice jab, nice footwork, nice speed and good understanding of the ring. He's also one of the very few fighters in the division who is a similar height to Navarette. Sadly however "nice" doesn't cut it at world class and even ignoring his flaws, which include a relatively low work rate, poor punch power, he simply doesn't have any world class traits.
Elorde could have made a very solid career fighting at regional level the last few years. Instead he has been moved safely to this shot. A shot that he doesn't deserve, is ill prepared for but will given his all for. Sadly giving his all won't be anywhere near enough against Navarrete. The Mexican might take a round or two to get his engine going but when that happens we expect him to mow through the Filipino challenger.
Prediction - TKO4 Navarette
Right now the Flyweight division, which for years was one of the strongest in the sport, is one of the least interesting. It's a division that is having a transitional period, with great fighters fighting 4lbs lower or 3lbs heavier. There are some sensational fighters at Flyweight, but they are few and far between, with many of the leading contenders are a bit limited. This has left the division with only a handful of excellent bouts at the top whilst we await for the next generation to develop.
Don't get us wrong, the division has some really exciting young talent in it's ranks, but the likes of Junto Nakatani, Nico Hernandez, Ryota Yamauchi, Jesse Rodriguez and Kento Hatanaka are just not ready, yet, to fight at the top.
That leaves us with some sensational champions and some veteran, or limited challengers. The match ups we want, are almost all unification bouts, with little else really being of major interest.
We say all that to pre-face the upcoming WBO Flyweight title bout which will put unbeaten 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (13-0, 7) up against mandatory challenger Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez (22-2-1-1, 13). It's a bout that looks good, but in reality we don't see it as all that competitive.
Tanaka is one of the guys who should be in, or on the verge, of the top 10 pound for pound conversation. He is already a 3 weight world champion at the age of 24 with notable wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura and Ryoichi Taguchi. In just 13 fights he has gone 7-0 (3) at world level, never faced an opponent with a losing record and his last 10 opponents combined had gone 176-11-8. In many ways he is cut from the same cloth as Naoya Inoue and Vasily Lomachenko. He wants to prove himself, and do it as quickly as possible. No messing about, no easy fights.
Sadly Gonzalez is a man who showed a lot of early promise but has yet to deliver on that promise. The 28 year old southpaw turned professional at the age of 19 after an excellent amateur career and would stop his first 6 opponents in 9 combined rounds. Sadly that power hasn't carried up as he's moved through the levels, and only 1 of his last 6 bouts saw him take an early win. His lack of power at the higher level isn't his only issue as he appears to lack in terms of durability, and both of his losses have come by stoppage. The first of those was in 2013, when he was dominated by Giovani Segura with the second with the second being a loss to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016.
What Gonzalez can do well is box. He's a nice, tidy boxer, with decent speed, nice movement and a brilliant arsenal of shots. Sadly though he is rather defensively open, and although he takes a good shot, his defenses fall apart when he's hurt, as we saw repeatedly against Segura. If you let him settle into his rhythm he's hard to unsettle, but at the same time he can be shaken, rather easily.
Boxing with Tanaka is rarely a good idea, he's an amazing boxer himself, with incredible speed, and he's often one, if not 2 or 3, steps ahead of his opponent. He's quick with hands and feet and is heavy handed enough to make incredibly tough world class fighters, even at Flyweight, respect him. His issues come when he faces fighters with big power, like Vic Saludar, not the boxers. Boxers are what he thrives against.
Coming into this we expect the fight to start off interestingly, with both boxing at a decent tempo and using their lightening speed. As the fight goes on however the fight will become more and more one sided, with Tanaka turning the screws in the middle rounds, upping his pace and unleashing his power shots. When that happens we expect to see Gonzalez crumbling, before being stopped, in a flurry of power shots, whilst on the ropes.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO10
The Philippines, seemingly more than anywhere else, has world champions who defend on the road fight after fight. We don't mean world champions who set up a boxing home away from home, but actually get out their passport and head all over the place to fight their world level bouts. The latest of those is WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (19-3, 10), who won the belt in Japan, made his first defense in Japan and will be in action this coming weekend in Puerto Rico, to defend against Wilfredo Mendez (13-1, 5).
The lack of big money in the Philippines has seen fighters like Saludar, John Riel Casimero and Jerwin Ancajas fighting on the road as champions, and in a way it makes their reigns a little more interesting than those fighters who remain a small, but local, star. It obviously increases the risk of them losing a dodgy decision, but also increases their reputation as real world champions, willing to fight around the world.
For fans who have seen Saludar the fear of being robbed on the scorecards does not appear to be a fear that he has. The hard hitting Pinoy he has travelled for 3 fights in the last 4 years, all against men fighting in their residency. In the first of those, in Nagoya against Kosei Tanaka, he almost took Tanaka out early, before being undone by a brutal body shot whilst in the lead. The second saw him dethrone Ryuya Yamanaka in Kobe, with a clear decision, before going to Tokyo to defend against Masataka Taniguchi, and clearly defeat the talented Taniguchi. He refuses to fight like a man who believes he's going to be robbed, and instead he tries to take the fight by the scruff of the neck, combining vicious power, with under-rated technical skills, a high work rate and a real self confidence.
Prior to turning professional Saludar was a highly regarded amateur, who had defeated the likes of Charlie Edwards and Mark Anthony Barriga, and gave Amnat Ruenroeng a really tough bout, in Thailand. Those amateur fundamentals gave Saludar a great base to work on and fantastic experience on the road. His naturally heavy hands make him a nightmare in the ring and whilst he has lost a few times one of those defeats came very early, when he bust his hand, another came to Tanaka, when Tanaka pulled out one of the best shots of his career, whilst the other came to Toto Landero, who went on to give Knockout CP Freshmart a very tough test.
Whilst Saludar is a well regarded name in the sport Mendez really isn't, at least not outside of Latin America. The once beaten 22 year old has fought all 14 pro bouts in the America's, fighting mostly in his native Puerto Rico and on the frankly appalling Dominican boxing scene, with a solitary fight in Colombia. For this coming fight he is at home, with it being his 6th fight in Puerto Rico, where he is currently 5-0 (2). For Mendez this is a huge step up, and comes after multiple fights with Robert Paradero have fallen through. To date his competition has lacked in terms of quality. His sole loss came in the Dominican Republic to Leyman Benavides, a Nicaraguan who had been stopped by Gilberto Parra just 4 months earlier, whilst his best win was a clear one over Janiel Rivera, which saw one judge mis-identity the fighters resulting in a very peculiar split decision. That win over Rivera saw Mendez stepping up to the plate and shining, but Rivera is a long way removed from Saludar.
Stylistically Mendez is a solid looking fighter, who knows how to use the ring, counter and lay traps. He's a smart fighter, who really can box wonderfully on the back foot. Sadly for all the nice touches he has in terms of counters, timing and distance control he does seem to slap his shots, fight negatively and lacks real power. He's skilled, but doesn't appear to really turn his weight into his power shots and instead looks like he slaps a lot. It also appears that his defensive skills look good because of the limited level of competition that he's facing.
Coming into this bout we expect the style of Mendez to appease Saludar. To beat Saludar you can't back off him, you can't let him take the initiative. If that happens he tends to be too good, and builds his confidence through the fight. If Mendez thinks he can win on the ropes, and soaking up pressure from Saludar we suspect he's wrong, very wrong. Sitting on the ropes and letting Saludar throw his heavy, clean, hurtful shots will break a fighter down, and we suspect Mendez gets broken down here.
Mendez looks like he's tough and brave, but the pressure of Saludar will simply be too much over 12 rounds.
Prediction - TKO9 Saludar
The Bantamweight division is currently one of the most interesting, with a host of brilliant match ups to be made, a number that are already on the horizon. Bouts like Naoya Inoue Vs Nonitor Donaire and Nordine Oubaali Vs Takuma Inoue are both fantastic bouts, and with the likes of Zolani Tete, Luis Nery, Liborio Solis, Jason Moloney and Reymart Gaballo all looking for a big fight the division really is red hot.
This coming Saturday the divisional talent overflow is in action as the WBO "interim" champion John Riel Casimero (27-4, 18) defends his belt against Mexican challenger Cesar Ramirez (18-3, 11). Whilst Casimero is the "lesser" of the WBO champions, behind Tete, it's been almost a year since Tete has been in the ring and it's unclear when he will return. The winner of this bout will be waiting for Tete's return to the ring, though by then may have found themselves being upgraded by the WBO.
Casimero won the interim title earlier this year, when he scored a 12th round win over Ricardo Espinoza Franco to become a "3 weight world champion", adding this title to reigns at Light Flyweight and Flyweight. Although the win over Franco wasn't televised footage from it leaked online and it was an enthralling fight, with Casimero finally finishing off Franco in the final round of a bout that was incredibly close. That win was Casimero's second as a fully fledged Flyweight, following a February win over Japanese foe Kenya Yamashita, and in that bout Casimero looked sharp, dangerous and like he really meant business. At times though Casimero has looked uninterested, bored and like he's lacked motivation. When the motivation is there he's fantastic, but he really does need a fire under his ass.
Despite being a rather lazy and frustrating fighter at times Casimero is a real natural talent, and someone who has had to do things the hard way through much of his career. He gained a reputation as a road warrior, fighting in Nicaragua, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Panama, Thailand, China and the UK all in the space of 7 years. Not only was he on the road but he was also in with stiff competition, including Cesar Canchila, Moruti Mthalane, Luiz Alberto Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Amnat Ruenroeng and Charlie Edwards. Not only he a road warrior, but he was a world class fighting, picking up several big wins on the road.
As a fighter Casimero is a clean hitting, sharp boxer-puncher. He's not the most destructive single puncher fighter out there, but he's got that razor sharp power, where he can bust people up with accurate clean shots. He has that solid power in both hands, and his power stays with him late into fights. He's skilled, has good ring IQ but is, as mentioned, lazy and somewhat under-sized for a Bantamweight, but at 30 is a fully grown man, unlike some of the youngsters breaking through the division.
Sadly it's less easy to say much about Ramirez, a man who has done nothing to be in a world title fight, even an interim one, and really will not be given much of a chance coming into this bout. The 31 year old Mexican challenger has been a professional since 2012 and has lacked a win of any real note. Despite that he has shared the ring with some pretty decent fighters, most notably Alejandro Gonzalez Jr and Ryan Burnett, who both clearly beat Ramirez, with Gonzalez stopping him in 6 and Burnett almost shutting him out over 10 rounds.
When looking through Ramirez's record for a win of some kind of note we really struggle, with the best being last year's 12th round TKO over Eliseo Velez. Sadly that sort of says it all, about Ramirez, who has not done anything at all to deserve a shot, with most of his wins so far coming against fighters with losing records.
Although not a total scrub it's still fair to say that Ramirez shouldn't be in a world title fight and will be little more than target practice for Casimero. The Filipino does deserve some easier bouts at home, given all of his big road bouts, but this is a rather pathetic first defense of the interim title. He will have things all his own way, chipping away at Ramirez until the time comes for the referee to save the challenger.
Prediction TKO7 - Casimero
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On June 19, at the Makuhari Messe arena in Japan, a national hero returns home, as Kazuto Ioka goes one on one with Aston Palicte for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight World Championship.
Kazuto Ioka (23-2 / 13 KOs) is without a doubt one of the best Japanese boxers of the last decade. He proved his worth quite early, back in his amateur days, amassing an impressive record of 95 wins in 105 bouts, including two All Japan championships, two Inter-High School titles and four National Sports Festival honors.
Turned pro in 2009, he showcased his amateur pedigree as he dispatched world title contender Takashi Kunishige, in just his third fight. Ioka then went on to win the vacant Japanese Light Flyweight title after he TKOed Masayoshi Segawa, only 18 months after his debut.
On February of 2011, Ioka’s first major test arrived when he challenged the unbeaten Kittipong Jaigrajang (35-0 at the time) for the WBC Strawweight World championship. Jaigrajang was champion for 4 years and had 6 title defenses under his belt. The Japanese hopeful went toe to toe with the veteran Thai champion, even knocking him down as early as in the second round and then once more in the fifth, with a lethal left body blow, sealing the deal and becoming the world champion at only 21 years of age. Ioka defended his championship twice the same year, against Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Veerawut Yuthimitr.
On June 20 of 2012, he was involved in a unification bout with the WBA champion and fellow rising Japanese star, Akira Yaegashi. Their careers shared many similarities. Yaegashi was also an accomplished amateur, with a record of 56-14, and had also won the National Sports Festival, back in 2002. Both men brought their A game that night, knowing what was at stake. An epic back and forth affair, that brought the fans to their feet, ended with Ioka earning the unanimous decision and leaving Osaka with two world championships.
Having conquered the Strawweight division, Ioka decided to move up a weight class and faced Jose Alfredo Rodriguez for the vacant WBA Light Flyweight World title (Regular version). Rodriguez was the former interim WBA champion, with 28 wins and only 1 decision loss. The Japanese prodigy systematically picked him apart with body shots and hooks, dropping him thrice, for the win as well as for his second divisional world title reign.
Ioka enjoyed another long run with the belt, marking 3 successful defenses over Phissanu Chimsunthom, former world champion Ekkawit Songnui and Felix Alvarado (current IBF Light Flyweight World Champion). Since the Roman Gonzalez fight never took place (WBA Super champion) Ioka vacated his title and debuted in the Flyweight division, where he tasted defeat for the first time as a pro, as he failed to capture the IBF title from Amnat Ruenroeng, in a very evenly contested bout. Ironically, Ioka had lost again to Amnat in the past, back in their amateur days, when they met at the semi-finals of the 2008 King's Cup, an annual boxing tournament held in Thailand.
The 2 division world champion came back even more determined, beating Pablo Carrillo and knocking out former interim world champion Jean Piero Perez with a thunderous right straight, within the span of three months, thus earning another opportunity at a Flyweight World Title, this time against the WBA Regular champion, Juan Carlos Reveco. After 12 action packed rounds, the Japanese superstar finally became a 3 division champion. Since the fight was very close on the judges’ scorecards, a rematch was set on New Year’s Eve of 2015. As usual, Ioka’s body work was the key factor, stopping Reveco in the eleventh round, in what otherwise was once again a close call.
As WBA Flyweight World champion, he made five successful title defenses, over the likes of Roberto Domingo Sosa, Juan Carlos Reveco (as mentioned above), Keyvin Lara, Yutthana Kaensa and Nare Yianleang. His toughest one had to be against Kaensa. The interim WBA champion, with a perfect record of 16-0, shocked everyone when he knocked Ioka down, with a fast right counter hook, in the second round. Ioka had never been dropped before in his pro career. Kaensa kept the pressure on for the majority of the fight, giving the champion a bigger challenge than he expected. The tables turned however as Ioka put the Thai boxer down with a liver shot in the seventh round and proceeded to finish him off by punishing his body even further.
His sixth defense was scheduled to take place on December 31st of 2017 but due to getting married and reportedly falling out with his father and promoter, Kazunori Ioka, he chose to retire and vacate his belt.
Almost 17 months later, Ioka returned to active competition, this time at Super Flyweight and with a new goal in mind: to become a 4 division world champion. He immediately challenged McWilliams Arroyo for the WBC Silver Super Flyweight title. Arroyo, much like Ioka, also had an extensive amateur career, winning the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2009 AIBA World Boxing Championships, including victories over 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Yan Bartelemí and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist Nyambayaryn Togstsogt. With no signs of ring-rust, the former multiple time world champion took control of the fight from the opening round and never let up. After 10 rounds and one knockdown in the third, the Japanese superstar was back on track. It’s worth mentioning that this was Ioka’s first fight in the U.S. as well as his first fight outside of Japan, as a pro.
Controversy struck on December 31st of last year, when he met fellow 3 division champion Donnie Nietes for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. After 12 rounds of incredible action, the (split) decision was given to the Filipino fighter, while most fans who watched the match, believed Ioka should have been the victor that night. With Nietes vacating the belt, Ioka gets a second chance to claim that was supposed to be his, but he first has to go through another boxer from the Philippines.
Aston Palicte (25-2-1 / 21 KOs) despite being around almost the same amount of time as Ioka, and even though he has more fights as a pro, a deeper look at his competition suggests that he’s not yet at the same level. He is however a very fast fighter, who knows how to throw good combinations and move around the ring with grace. Palicte likes to keep his distance, creating space with jabs, and then strike with the right. Most of his victories are a result of this strategy. His biggest one thus far has been against former interim WBA Light Flyweight World champion Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in 2017, which was basically a one sided affair. It’s worth mentioning that he also throws strong uppercuts.
On the other hand, he tends to receive a lot of hits throughout his matches, while he finds himself in trouble when his opponent gets too close, which was the case in his encounter with Nietes. The fight itself was declared a draw, but Nietes was the one that landed and connected with way more punches as well as the more accurate ones. Now Palicte has earned himself another opportunity at the gold, after he stopped Jose Martinez (20-0 at the time), to become the #1 contender for the WBO title.
It’s safe to assume Ioka is the clear favorite in this one. Considering that he’s an expert at closing the distance and punishing the body, Palicte will have a tough time defending against him, or even putting any significant offense of his own. This might not end with a KO, as the Filipino is quite resilient, but in case that it does, it will be in the later rounds, probably after the 8th.
The Super Featherweight division is a division that promises a lot, but has yet to really deliver with 4 champions all seemingly fighting in their own bubbles and not working their way towards unification bouts. This is seeing fighters like Gervonta Davis and Tevin Farmer having more interesting battles over Twitter than in the actual ring, which is a real shame. Despite the champions all being in their own bubbles they are really good fighters, including WBO champion Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13), who returns to the ring this coming Saturday to defend his title against American challenger Jamel Herring (19-2, 10).
Ito is one of those fighters who came through the hard way, and progressed from novice to champion learning his trade in the professional ranks. He debuted in 2009, without any kind of amateur pedigree, and in 2012 won the Japanese Rookie of the Year. He was unfortunate to lose almost a year of his early career due to an injury suffered in an automobile accident, that kept him out of the ring after his debut, but recovered brilliantly to win the Rookie the of the Year only a few years later. In 2013 he would claim his first professional belt, the WBC Youth Lightweight title, before losing in a national title fight in 2015. Since that loss he has gone 9-0 (6), claiming regional titles and, of course, the WBO title last year.
If you don't follow the Asian scene Ito kind of came out of nowhere last year when he beat Christopher Diaz for the WBO world title. In reality however those who followed the Asian scene had followed Ito for a while, and seen him score wins over the likes of Masaru Sueyoshi, Kosuke Saka, Taiki Minamoto, Masao Nakamura, Takuya Watanabe and Lorenzo Villanueva. He had shown a fantastic boxing brain, sharp punching, an intelligent defensive ability and had began to develop an exciting offensive style, a style that was polished following his loss to Rikki Naito.
Although not as explosive as Miguel Berchelt, or as crafty as Tevin Farmer, or as hard hitting as Gervonta Davis, Ito is arguably the most rounded champion at 130lbs. He's defensively smart, sharp punching and uses the ring well. He's certainly not a big puncher, but he's a clean puncher, and his straight right hand has more sting on it than his record suggests. His movement allows him to set the right hand up well, and his judgement of distance is one of his big strengths, as is the variation of his right hand, which is effective both as a straight punch as a looping shot. His ring IQ really does show with his shot selection and he is going to be a hard man to dethrone.
Unlike the Japanese fighter Herring was actually a really good amateur. The American was a former standout who won numerous national titles and participated in the 2012 Olympics, losing to Kazakh fighter Daniyar Yeleussinov. Following the Olympics he would turn professional and string together 15 wins whilst fighting at Lightweight. Sadly for him however he suffered 2 losses in quick success, falling to 16-2, and being stopped by Denis Shafikov and losing a decision to Ladarius Miller. Since the loss to Miller in 2017 Herring has dropped to Super Featherweight and picked up 3 straight wins.
In the ring Herring, like Ito, is a smart fighter. He's very much a deliberate fighter, who fighters at a relatively steady pace. He has good speed, a solid jab and awkward physical dimensions. Sadly Herring doesn't make the most of his size or speed. He's typically been happy to fight within himself, and even when he's had the chance to up the tempo and try to impress he's not done it. He's typically done enough to win, but not enough to wow an audience. This was seen really clearly a year ago, when he shut out John Vincent Moralde, but showed no intention of seeking a finish, which was rather disappointing given the huge gulf in levels between the two men. Strangely his lack of killer instinct could well be related to one of Herring's most interesting characteristics, the fact he's actually a really nice guy, maybe a touch too nice to be a boxing star. He needs to shake that niceness in the ring if he's to make the most of his ability.
Physically Herring can be a nightmare for anyone at 130lbs. He's a freakish fighter, even if he does seem a little gun shy. Although a nightmare to fight we don't see him really testing Ito, who we're expecting to be too busy, too accurate and too sharp for the challenger. Herring will be there to win, but after a few rounds he'll be finding himself in a hole, a hole he won't be able to climb out of as Ito goes on to a comfortable and wide decision win.
Prediction UD12 Ito
The WBSS semi-finals finally kick off this coming weekend, and in regards to Asian boxing we'll get the first of the two Bantamweight semi-final bouts, as WBA "super" champion Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25) takes on WBO king Zolani Tete (28-3, 21). The winner will not only unify the titles but also advance to the WBSS Bantamweight final, later in the year, where they will face either Naoya Inoue or Emmanuel Rodriguez.
Whilst the WBSS has stalled losing it's shine shine and momentum this year, the competition is still something that has got fan interest and this bout certainly looks to be one of the most interesting of the tournament so far. It pits established names against each other, both men who are in their 30's, both of whom will know that winning the WBSS tournament will be the biggest achievement of their career. It gives both the chance to not only unify two titles with this bout, but also add the IBF title in the final, and really stamp their mark on the Bantamweight division.
The 36 year old Donaire is a modern day legend. He has not only been one of the most genuine, classy and likable fighters in the sport, but also a lower weight superstar. Since shocking Vic Darchinyan back in 2007 for the IBF Flyweight we have seen Donaire as one of the faces of the lower weight classes. Over the last decade or so he has scored notable wins over a real who's who, including Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Fernando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Simpiwe Vetyeka and most recently Ryan Burnett. Whilst the level of performance varied it's hard to doubt the level of wins Donaire has picked up.
Despite a host of big wins Donaire has picked up losses in recent years, losing 4 of his last 12 bouts. Those losses have however come to world class fighters Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nicholas Walters, Jessie Magdaleno and Carl Frampton. Those losses have shown that Donaire, at times, wasn't a master boxer, wasn't lightening quick and was event fighting above his best weight. Despite those issues he was always a very dangerous puncher, with one of the most devastatings hooks in the sport.
In the ring Donaire isn't as quick or as sharp as he once was, but he is a strong, powerful, skilled fighter. If he boxes at 118lbs he won't have the sharpness to hold his own, but if he applies an intelligent pressure style, he will be able to impose his will on most opponents. Although Ryan Burnett made him look slow in their bout last year Donaire's pressure was having success and we suspect to see that type of game plan from him again here.
Donaire's opponent is 31 year old South African Zolani Tete, a rangy, tall and skilled fighter who really is a phsyical freak at 118lbs. Like many top South African fighters it took a long time for Tete to get much international attention, that's despite fighting for a world title way back in 2010, when he lost to Moruti Mthalane. Tete would in fact go 3-2 following his first loss, losing razor thin decisions to Jaun Alberto Rosas and Roberto Domingo Sosa, both on the road. Since those 3 losses he has won 12 in a row, become a 2-weight champion and finally got some respect as a top fighter.
The recent winning run of Tete has seen him defeat Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr, Teiru Kinoshita, who he beat for the IBF Super Flyweight title, Paul Butler, Arthur Villanueva, Siboniso Gonya, Omar Andrez Narvaez and Mikhail Aloyan. Against Butler he looked sensational, against Gonya he looked destructive, but those bouts aside he has left himself open to criticism, as lack a killer instinct, and being too happy at winning, rather than wanting to win and look good. There's been a bit of a "fighting in third gear" feel about his recent showings, and they have seen him look less than great.
Despite not looking amazing Tete is a quick, sharp fighter, with solid power, a great judge of distance, accurate punches and good movement. He lacks a real spitefulness to his work, in general, but is a hugely skilled fighter who has the sort of size rarely seen at Bantamweight. He's very tall and very long.
Coming in to this we're expecting a pretty clear stylistic match up. Tete will look to use his reach, his speed and his jab, he will look to keep Donaire at range and rack up the rounds. Donaire on the other hand might begin as a boxer but will revert to being a pressure fighter as the bout goes on, bringing the heat and looking to beat down Tete with heavy leather.
We can see both men winning. We can clearly see Tete putting on a boxing class, fighting safely and racking up the early rounds before cruising to a closer than it should be decision. We can also see Donaire's vicious power and physicality breaking down Tete in the middle rounds.
We'd love to see a Donaire win, and we'd obviously love a Donaire Vs Inoue final, but it would be an upset for him to do it at his age. Instead we're going with a Tete decision win, with the South African staying sharp, on his toes and alert of the danger Donaire brings. He'll not put on a show, but he will get the win.
Preduction UD12 Tete.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On March 16, 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka defends his WBO Flyweight title against former double titlist Ryoichi Taguchi, in Gifu, Japan.
Kosei Tanaka (12-0/7 KOs) is considered by many to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sports event. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World championships.
Tanaka turned pro on November 10 of 2013, the same day he turned 18. After winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked Japanese fighter Ryuji Hara (23-2) for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men fight at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the 6th and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans at Korakuen Hall. Finally, in the 10th, Tanaka delivered a brutal nonstop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage thus gaining him the OPBF crown.
In 2015, Tanaka became the Minimumweight World champion, after he fought and beat Julian Yedras (24-4) for the vacant WBO title. His first and only defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (19-3) in December. Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting caught by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even got dropped, before knocking Saludar out to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the WBO World title in 2018)
After that fight, Tanaka moved up to Light Flyweight and soon won this division’s world title as well, when he TKOed former World champion Moises Fuentes (25-6) in 2016. He successfully defended the WBO championship twice against future World title holder Angel Acosta (19-1) and WBA Asia champion Rangsan Chayanram (16-2). It’s worth mentioning that all of Acosta’s 19 wins have come via KO. Also, much like in the Saluda fight, Tanaka’s fighting style got him in trouble again during his encounter with Rangsan. In what was supposed to be an easy match before challenging the WBA World champion Ryoichi Taguchi in a unification bout, it turned out to be one of his toughest matches yet. Not only the Thai fighter knocked him down in the opening round but even when Tanaka won, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out from the much anticipated double title fight.
When Tanaka returned to the ring in 2018, his goal was to become a 3 division World champion. As a Flyweight, he defeated the interim WBO Oriental champion and then unbeaten fighter, Ronnie Baldonado (13-1), earning a title shot against Sho Kimura (17-2). In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of some of these exchanges. In the end, Tanaka was awarded with the decision and the WBO Flyweight World championship, becoming a 3 weight class king, at only 23 years of age. As fate would have it, his initial defense will be against the man he wanted to face back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi.
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3/12 KOs) after a short amateur career, made his pro debut in 2006, while only 19. For the next 7 years, he was building a name for himself, amassing a record of 19 wins, 2 decision losses and 1 draw, including victories over Norihito Tanaka (18-7), Tetsuya Hisada (33-9) and future WBC World champion Yu Kimura (18-3).
In 2014, Taguchi faced former IBF Strawweight World champion Florante Condes (27-10). Despite getting dropped twice, the Japanese star worked the body of the veteran and controlled the pace of the fight, keeping a much aggressive Condes at bay, thus eventually earning the unanimous decision and his biggest victory at the time. That win put him in world title contention and on New Year’s Eve, Taguchi went head to head with the WBA Light Flyweight champion Alberto Rossel (34-9), who was riding an 8 fight winning streak. Much like in the previous fight, Taguchi implemented a similar strategy and even scored 2 knockdowns, both via a left body hook. After an action packed second half, Taguchi left Ota City the new WBA World champion.
His first title defense was against former WBA Strawweight World champion Ekkawit Songnui (48-6). In what was a one sided beatdown, Taguchi knocked the Thai challenger down an impressive total of 5 times through out the fight, mostly with the right cross, before the referee stopped it. After dispatching journeyman Luis de la Rosa (25-13) and Juan Jose Landaeta (27-9), he met fellow countryman Ryo Miyazaki (24-2), former WBA Strawweight World titlist as well as Japanese & OPBF Light Flyweight champion. It was a back and forth affair where both men gave it their all. Taguchi was once again declared the victor and was named WBA’s MVP Player of the month (August 2016).
Taguchi fought unbeaten Carlos Canizales (21-0), a few months later, to a draw and also outboxed mandatory challenger Robert Barrera (22-2) in every single round, picking his body apart and finishing him off in the 9th, after a barrage of strikes. Since the aforementioned unification bout with WBO champion Tanaka didn’t materialize, Taguchi would face the IBF champion Milan Melindo (37-4), on December 31st of 2017, exactly 3 years after he won the WBA title. Melindo had a strong 2017, stopping 3 division champion Akira Yaegashi (27-6) in just the 1st round to win the title and also defending it against Hekkie Budler (32-4). Taguchi slowly established his dominance as the match progressed, wearing Melindo down, making him fight his fight and keeping him close while constantly attacking the body. When it was all said and done, Taguchi was declared unified WBA Super, IBF & The Ring Light Flyweight World champion. Unfortunately that reign wouldn’t last as he would lose all of his belts to Budler, this past May, in a very even encounter. Now returning to the ring almost a year later, Taguchi will once again fight for gold, but this time in a different division than he is used to.
As in every Tanaka fight, the question is, will this be the time his recklessness finally proves to be his undoing ? It is well known that Tanaka’s brawling style has put him in dangerous positions, almost even costing him 2 world title fights (Saludar and Chayanram) and that he was only saved by his incredible knockout power and hand speed. Taguchi, unlike most of Tanaka’s opponents, won’t try to engage in an all out war. Instead, he will try to slow him down and systematically punish him with body shots. Taguchi really excels the longer the fight goes. 15 of his 27 wins have gone the distance, compared to Tanaka’s 5 out of 12 (although in world title matches they are even 3-3). Despite all that, Tanaka always finds a way to come out on top, no matter the odds. So to sum this up, it’s obvious that Taguchi has all the tools to succeed at Flyweight and become a World champion, but can he do it against the seemingly unbeatable Tanaka ? We will find out this Saturday in the land of the rising sun.
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.