By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
The month of July is a quite busy month for boxing, with so many great matches taking place worldwide. One of those is Ryuya Yamanaka, the reigning WBO World Minimumweight champion, defending against Vic Saludar, in Japan on July 13.
Ryuya Yamanaka (16-2/5 KOs) took up boxing at a very young age, under the tutelage of, 3 division world champion, Hozumi Hasegawa. His first pro-fight took place in 2012, when he was just 17 years old. Within the next 4 years, he garnered 12 wins and 2 losses, before he faced, top Philippino boxer, Merlito Sabillo (25-3*) for the vacant OPBF Minimumweight title. Sabillo, a former Philippines, OPBF and WBO world champion, had finished 12 of his 25 wins via KO whereas Ryuya had only 3 under his belt. The Japanese fighter was clearly the underdog in this bout, with less in-ring experience and KO power. However, Yamanaka shocked everyone with his performance that day, making the champion look like an amateur. His speed and precision earned him the unanimous decision and his first major title. In less than a year later, his big moment came as he was set to fight Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4*) on August of 2017 at the Shiroyama Sky Dome for the WBO World Minimumweight championship. Fukuhara, who is still ranked amongst the top Minimumweight competitors in the world, went through a war with Yamanaka, with both men giving everything they got during this title bout. In the end, Yamanaka’s hand was raised once again in victory, winning the World title at the age of 22. On March of this year, he successfully made his first title defense against Mexican standout Moises Calleros (28-7*). Yamanaka’s skills proved to be too much for Calleros, as he made him retire in the 8th round.
Vic Saludar (17-3/10 KOs) currently ranked #3 by the WBO, has been slowingly climbing up the rankings in order to get a crack at the gold. The Philippino was 11-1 when he faced the undefeated world champion Kosei Tanaka back on December of 2015. Despite losing the match, he proved that he is a worthy contender as he took Tanaka to the limit, even knocking him down in the 5th round. In 2016 he made a strong comeback, after he beat Lito Dante (11-5*) to win the WBO Oriental Minimumweight title. Since then, Saludar has been gaining momentum and finally earned another chance at the new champion.
The Japanese champion has come face to face with much tougher opponents during his previous encounters. This fight is just another stepping stone for him towards a possible future unification match. For Saludar, this is do or die time. He already missed his first shot, he does not want to fail again, since chances like these don’t come very often.
Prediction: Yamanaka is the favourite in this one. Even though he may not be the knock out artist Saludar is, he has been matched with much better competition, than the challenger, in the past and he always manages to come out on top. His technique and agility will be his biggest assets here. However, Saludar is not to be taken lightly, if his bout with Tanaka is any indication. One mistake by Ryuya and we could be looking at a new champion.
*The boxer’s record before the fight.
The Minimumweight division is one of the most frustrating in the sport, right now. There is a lot of talent in the division, not something that can often be said about the 105lb weight class, but that talented doesn't seem to be on a collision course of any kind. Instead it seems like the 4 champions are likely to be kept apart. Whilst that's frustrating there is, thankfully, enough contenders to keep the division interesting. One of those is Mexican Moises Calleros (28-7-1, 16), who will be in Japan this coming weekend to challenge WBO champion Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2, 4), who will be making his first defense of the title.
For those who haven't followed the division Calleros fought in Japan in February 2017, losing to Tatsuya Fukuhara for the then vacant WBO title. In his first defense Fukuhara lost the title to Yamanaka. Interestingly both of those fights were razor thin action bouts, and Fukuhara later went on to prove he was world class with a fantastic losing performance to WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin.
Since losing the Fukuhara just over a year ago the 28 year old Calleros has been busy with 3 fights, all wins. These haven't been against the best fighters but they have included a win against former world champion Mario Rodriguez.
For those who haven't seen Calleros he's an ultra aggressive, come forward fighter with a high work rate, a very exciting style and someone who will be a handful for pretty much anyone at 105lbs. He's not the biggest puncher, but has under-rated power, which combined with his volume does make him very dangerous. At 28 he's coming into his prime, he's fairly big fighter for a Minimumweight and has fought at Flyweight a number of times.
At the lower weights competition for contenders to face on their way up can be a bit thin. Calleros however has faced good fighters through his career. This has included a narrow loss to Julian Yedras, 12 round decision loss to Francisco Rodriguez Jr, a win over Carlos Perez, the loss to Fukuhara and the aforementioned win over Mario Rodriguez. He might not be in the top 10 of the division, but he's certainly not too far outside of that group.
As mentioned Fukuhara lost the title to Yamanaka in his first defense, last August. Since the the 22 year old champion hasn't fought, but has clearly been preparing hard for his first defence and to continue his 8 fight winning run.
The Japanese youngster made his professional debut at the age of 17 and struggled at times early in, going 7-2, with an opening round loss to Kenta Shimizu in his 5th bout and an upset loss to Roque Lauro in 2014. Since that loss to Lauro however we're see Yamanaka his his stride with notable wins against Takahiro Murai, Ronelle Ferreras, Merlito Sabillo and Tatsuya Fukuhara. Like the challenger he's a busy fighter, who will throw a lot of punches. Technically he's a bit limited, but with his youthful energy he's got good stamina, beating Fukuhara at his own game, good speed and an under-rated boxing brain.
Sadly Yamanaka does lack fire power. He's only scored 4 stoppages in 18 bouts, and only 2 in his last 11 bouts, with the last two of those coming against terrible Thai visitors. His lack of power will be an issue at world level, and whilst he has got the energy, speed and skills to hold the title for a bit against the right types of opponents, though against someone like Hiroto Kyoguchi he would likely be ripped apart due to the significant differences in power and physical strength.
Coming in to this one we're expecting a really thrilling bout. Sadly though we feel that the maturity and physical strength of Calleros will be the difference. The two will have an insane action bout, but the challenger will be too strong for the champion, who is one of the sports youngest current champions and will obviously be able to come again in the future, with a bit more experience and physical development.
The Minimumweight division is one that is currently dominated by Asian fighters, with all 4 major world titles being held by Asian's. This coming Sunday won't see that changing, but could potentially see a new champion being crowned, as WBO Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7) defends his title against fellow Japanese fighter Ryuya Yamanaka (14-2, 4). For the champion this will be his first defense of the title whilst Yamanaka will be getting his first world title fight, as he looks to become the next world champion from the Shinsei gym.
The 28 year old Fukuhara was a fighter who showed some early promise, reaching the 2009 Rookie of the Year final, but then his career stumbled. He went from 5-0-2 (1) to 12-4-3 (3) and suffered losses to Yu Kimura and Takuma Inoue, who was making his debut. Since that poor run we have however seen Fukuhara turn his career around, with a 7-0-3 (4) run in his last 10. That run has seen him fight to a draw with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in Thailand, defeat Hiroya Yamamoto for the Japanese title, over-come Takumi Sakae and Genki Hanai in title defenses, get a technical draw against Shin Ono and beat Moises Calleros for the “interim” WBO world title.
The run of Fukuhara's has been genuinely impressive and has seen him show impressive mental strength. In the ring he's got a nice jab and solid work rate, but does lack power and he has a very weak looking left hand, which is an issue given he's a southpaw, and a pretty weak defense. When he throws the left hand he often leaves him open to counters, and can be seen to rely on his chin a bit too much during those moments. Despite there being a lot of flaws Fukuhara has proven to be a tough man to beat in recent years with his willingness to take one to land one being part of what makes him so hard to beat. It's also worth noting that he is a hero in Kumamoto, and the crowd will be behind him every time he fights there, where he has grown a notable local following.
Whilst the champion is pretty unknown in the west it's fair to say that Yamanaka is a total unknown outside of Japan, and in fairness is pretty unknown outside of Hyogo. He turned professional in 2012 and has regularly fought in Kobe on shows promoted by his gym Shinsei. He's ventured out a few times, but not too often. During his career he has suffered a couple of losses, with one of those being an early career stoppage to Kenta Shimizu and the other being a decision loss to Filipino journeyman Roque Lauro in 2014. Coming in to this bout however he is riding a 7 fight winning run, including wins over Takahiro Murai, Ronelle Ferreras and most notably Merlito Sabillo, a win that saw Yamanaka claim the OPBF title.
In the win over Sabillo we saw the ability of Yamanaka shine as he boxed and moved, using his speed and movement to make the former world champion look slow, clumsy and like a novice at times. It was this version of Yamanaka that showed the talent to become a world champion down the line, and earned him this shot, but there is a difference between fighting a shop worn, former champion like Sabillo, and a current champion like, Fukuhara.
Footage of the two suggests that Yamanaka is the better boxer. He's the more natural talent of the two. But we can't help but feel that that natural talent will be swamped by Fukuhara, who will simply wear down the challenger. We can certainly see Yamanaka boxing and moving to a decision victory, but we suspect the champion will retain with a late stoppage.
On December 6th 2013 the boxing world saw a notable card take place at the Kokugikan in Tokyo. The show saw Akira Yaegashi retain the WBC Flyweight title, with a decision win over Edgar Sosa, Naoya Inoue claim the OPBF Light Flyweight title with a 5th round TKO against Jerson Mancio, Ryosuke Iwasa claiming the OPBF Bantamweight title with a 5th round TKO against Hiroki Shiino and Ryota Murata claim his second win, stopping Dave Peterson in 8 rounds.
That card also featured the debut of 17 year old super prospect Takuma Inoue, who took a clear win over Tatsuya Fukuhara (now 18-4-6, 7). The loss for Fukuhara could have been a career ending humiliation, being out pointed by a debuting teen. Instead that bout was a catalyst for Fukuhara to turn his career career around and since that loss he has gone 6-0-3 (3), claimed the Japanese Minimumweight title and, arguably, been the most improved fighter in Japan.
That improvement for Fukuhara has seen him open the door for a major bout on February 26th as he takes on Mexican foe Moises Calleros (25-6-1, 14) in a bout for the interim WBO Minimumweight title. A win for Fukuhara would see him extend his post Inoue run to a 10 fights without a loss, and would see him opening the door to a potential domestic showdown with WBO “regular” champion Katsunari Takayama later in the year.
In the ring Fukuhara took time to find his feet and despite winning his first 4 bouts there was some fortune in his early results. He did however get things going and in 2009 he fought in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing a decision to Takuya Mitamura, who later went on to claim the Japanese title and challenge for a WBA interim title himself. Following that loss Fukuhara experimented with different weight classes, though suffered set backs at Light Flyweight and Flyweight. Those set backs saw Fukuhara head back to 105lbs and he got his career back under-way with an upset win over Koki Ono. A short winning run was ended by back-to-back losses to Yu Kimura and the aforementioned loss to Inoue.
At the time Fukuhara was 12-4-3 (3) and no one would have bet on the success he was to have. Less than a year later however had proven his ability by fighting to a draw in Thailand with Faglan Sakkreerin Jr. In late 2015, less than 2 years after the loss to Inoue, Fukuhara claimed the Japanese Minimumweight title by out pointing Hiroya Yamamoto and built on that win with defenses of the title against the unbeaten pairing of Takumi Sake and Genki Hanai as well as a technical draw against Shin Ono.
In the ring Fukuhara is a hard working southpaw with under-rated skills, a genuine toughness and a great engine. He might not scream world class in any department but with his continual improvement and very over-looked abilities he is a real talent with the potential to win genuine world titles in the years to come. He has proven he can box on the front foot or the back foot, he's accurate and the bout with Fahlan proved he has no fear of facing top quality opponents, even in their back yard.
Whilst Fukuhara is one of the most improved fighters over the last few years he is a relative unknown outside of his homeland. The same too can be said for Calleros, who debuted in 2008 and didn't face anyone of nay note until March 2012. That bout saw Calleros suffer a split decision to Julian Yedras, and resulted in Calleros' record falling to 17-4-1 (13). Since then he has faced fighters of more notoriety, losing a decision in 2013 to Francisco Rodriguez Jr, and scoring a win last year over Mario Rodriguez.
In the footage of Calleros he looks like a genuine trier, who comes to fight and will always look to walk down his opponents. His bout with Francisco Rodriguez Jr was a toe-to-toe war fought in a phone booth at times. Whilst it was fun to watch it did show that Calleros isn't the big puncher that his record suggests, and also suggested that his attacks were wide, wild and relatively predictable. Despite the flaws he never looked scared of taking one to land one and looked like the sort of fighter who would make for a FOTY contender with a warrior like Takayama. He did however look more polished in the bout against Mario Rodriguez, with an inexhaustible energy reserve and a style that saw him holding a high tempo through out and forcing Rodriguez on to the back foot through the later stages.
Although Calleros has an incredible engine and a fun style it does seem like he has has only fought as a Minimumweight once in the last 6 years and has never fought outside of Mexico, two things that could cost him here.
With Calleros' pressure style and Fukuhara's adaptability we're expecting this to be a sensational fight. Calleros will be on the Kumamoto man from the off, and how Fukuhara deals with that pressure will be the key to the fight. We suspect, with the crowd behind him, Fukuhara will do just enough to eek out a narrow decision here, and secure himself a showdown with Takayama in the summer. If however Calleros wins we'll be incredibly excited about a Takayama Vs Calleros bout.
Although it's unfair in some ways we are disappointed to learn that the bout is likely to only be available to fans in Kumamoto. With our expectations of the bout being a war it's a shame that only such a small number of fight fans will be able to watch the contest.
There's a bit of a quiet period in Asia during August but that comes to an end on August 20th when we get a brilliant world title bout that could potentially see a “torch passing moment” in Japanese boxing, or the final big performance from a genuine modern warrior. The bout in question sees teenager Riku Kano (10-1-1, 5) [加納 陸] attempt to set a Japanese record as he takes on multi-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (30-8-0-1, 12) [高山 勝成].
Of the two fighters it's Takayama who is the more well known. The 33 year old has been a modern day Minimumweight legend. He has faced a who's who featuring fighters like Isaac Bustos, Eagle Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi, Mario Rodriguez, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Ryuji Hara. Whilst he has suffered losses he has never shown fear of fighting the best, and actually just having a fight.
If you like “pure boxing” and fighters who concentrate on counter punching then Takayama isn't a fighter for you. However if you like fighters who get in the ring, have a war and give non-stop action then Takayama is fighter who really is down your alley, as seen in his 2014 FOTY contender with Rodriguez Jr. Sadly however those wars have taken a toll on his flesh and in recent bouts he has been cutting very easily, as a result he has been ripped wide open in two of his last 3 bouts.
Aged 33 Takayama has been a professional for close to 16 years. During his career he has claimed Japanese national titles along with the WBC, WBA “interim”, IBF and WBO titles and been fighting in world title bouts for more than a decade. He is Japan's first “Grandslam” champion and is a man who knows his legacy is set, but feels there is still more in the tank and that a technical loss to Jose Argumedo last December doesn't have to be the end. He's still full of energy, still aggressive and still a world class fighter but his career has certainly taken a toll on his flesh and he's a fighter who doesn't have much longer left in the sport.
Aged just 18 Kano is viewed as one of the rising stars of Japanese boxing, and along with the Inoues, Kosei Tanaka and fellow teenager Hinata Maruta. Unlike many of the other promising youngsters in Japan Kano actually didn't start his career in Japan, instead however he began almost 3 years ago in the Philippines, before establishing himself in Thailand. In the Philippines he went 1-1-1 but really came into his own in Thailand, where he won the WBA Asia title and proved he could go 12 rounds.
Kano made his Japanese debut last year and in his third bout on Japanese soil he out pointed the very experienced Pigmy Kokietgym. This year, in his fourth bout at home, he claimed the “interim” OPBF Minimumweight title, with a split decision win against former world champion Merlito Sabillo. That win was a serious coming of age performance by Kano who showed his skills, energy, toughness. Those traits will have to be seen again here for him to have any chance against the ultra-aggressive Takayama.
Although he already has 12 bouts to his record his upcoming bout is potentially an historic one. If Kano wins he will become the youngest ever world champion from Japan, beating a very old record of Hiroki Ioka who set it back in 1987 when he beat Mai Thomburifarm. The pressure is all on him to break that record and set himself on to the world title picture. That is the sort of pressure than can break lesser fighters and is something incredibly important for Kano to cope with.
At his best this would almost certainly be a win for Takayama. However he's not at his best, his skin is so fragile that he could cut any moment and unfortunately we think that will be the issue here with Kano cutting Takayama and claiming a stoppage as a result, probably in the middle rounds with Takayama starting slowly due to spending the last 8 months away from the ring. We wouldn't be shocked by a Takayama win, but we do suspect Kano will be the man coming out on top.
Sadly for fight fans hoping to see this bout, it will only be aired live in Osaka,and no international streams are expected to be available.
Over the past few years we have seen numerous Japanese youngsters fight on the fast track to the top. The quickest of those has been Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2), who set a Japanese record earlier this year when he won world title in just his 5th bout. On December 31st Tanaka looks to make the first defense of his title, the WBO Minimumweight title, as he takes on former Filipino amateur standout Vic Saludar (11-1, 9), who will be fighting in his first world title bout.
Tanaka's rise through the ranks really has been meteoric. He debuted in November 2013 and beat the then world ranked Oscar Raknafa, that was followed up by another victory over a world ranked fighter, Ronelle Ferreras. Those wins helped the then teenage Tanaka climb into the world rankings though for many his first eye opening performance actually came against Crison Omayao, who was stopped in just 115 seconds.
Tanaka's rise was fast through his first 3 bouts but has since gone super sonic with the talented youngster claiming the OPBF Minimumweight title in October 2014, with an exceptional 10th round TKO win over Ryuji Hara. That win prepared Tanaka for his world title bout, which came this past May against Julian Yedras, who was clearly beaten over 12 rounds, despite a disgustingly close card from Luis Ruiz.
In the ring the 20 year old Japanese fighter is a natural. He's blessed with insane speed in both his hands and feet, clever defensive movements and some of the most amazing combinations in the sport. He does seem to lack true KO power but he's certainly still a relative baby and is likely to grow into his strength in the coming years, when that happens he'll have added power to his skills, speed and movement which are all exceptional.
Despite only have 5 fights of professional experience Tanaka has accrued 37 rounds, he has gone 12 rounds at a good pace and 10 rounds at an exceptional pace. There is some question marks on his stamina in soma quarters but others, such as ourselves, feel he has the ability to 12 fast rounds if needed and that he has slowed down at times to try things out rather than due to exhaustion.
Whilst Tanaka has been on the fast track from the get-go it's fair to say that his opponent, Saludar, has also been sped along being given this world title opportunity in just his 13th professional bout and after just 29 months as a professional fighter. He debuted back in July 2013, with a blow out win against Juanito Hondante, in a bout that lasted just 52 seconds.
Since his debut Saludar has looked like a confident fighter with very fast and heavy hands. Dubbed “Vicious” his punching power and aggressive style certainly sees him living up to his nickname. Sadly at times he has however shown a lack of control and his win over Michael Kaibigan was seemingly scored with a very cheap shot on a then downed Kaibigan, that could easily have cost him a DQ loss. Whilst he is vicious he is also wild, offensively wreckless and defensively open, meaning that a skilled fighter could well counter him and really make him pay for his free swinging offense.
One thing that also needs to be noted about Saludar is that he already has a stoppage loss on his record. That occurred in just his 3rd bout when he was forced to retire against Powell Balaba, after he fractured his hand. Prior to his retirement in that bout he had dropped Balaba and it seems likely that he would have won the contest had it not been for the injury.
Coming in tot his one we do favour Tanaka, however it's likely we will see him given a serious chin check on route to winning. The difference is the defensive ability, with Tanaka having the better all round defense, which will likely allow the champion to see out the early storm before breaking down the challenger in the later rounds.
In boxing we often hear fighters talk the talk, claim they are something or that they are trying to do something. All too often however those words are just words, they don't lead to the actions that they claim and they often get put down to hyping either themselves, a fight or an event. Whilst we can understand hyping something we also understand that when fighter backs up their words it means something else. It's not just hype but something more solid.
When Kosei Tanaka (4-0, 2) turned professional his team seemed to suggest he was something special. They seemed to feel their man was almost ready from the off to win a world title. They weren't just talking the talk however and instead they set off on an aggressive career progression for their teenager wunderkind. Their aim wasn't to just hype Tanaka but to make a statement of intent. Essentially what they had done was put the alert out there, “Our kid is special, and we'll show you why”.
On his debut he toyed with a then world ranked foe over 6 rounds before beating another over 8. Two fights in it was clear that Tanaka was a sensational talent, though he still had things to prove before being moved to world title fights. The first thing he had to prove was his power, which he proved by blowing away Crison Omayao inside a round. Then he had to prove he could beat a genuinely world class fighter and score a “graduation” type win by claiming a continental or national title before fighting for a world title, a rule brought in for Japanese fight by the JBC. Tanaka did that in his 4th bout by stopping the excellent Ryuji Hara in 10 rounds to claim the OPBF title, and set a Japanese national record for the fewest fights to win the OPBF title.
In May Tanaka looks to set another Japanese record, the record his team talked about when he debuted. The Japanese record for fewest fights to a world title. That fight comes on May 30th when he takes on Mexico's Julian Yedras (24-1, 13) for the vacant WBO Minimumweight title. The bout will be the first world title contest for either man though it features two men who have shown plenty of promise and are both looking to score a win that will make them a world champion.
Aged 26 Yedras is a Mexican fighter who, at one point, was viewed as a very promising prospect himself. He had won his first 21 fights, claimed the WBC youth Silver Minimumweight title and had shown plenty of exciting qualities, including some vicious body shots, sharp movement and heavy looking jab. Despite the good start to his career he was written off by many following his first defeat, a clear decision loss to the highly talented Carlos Buitrago.
Since losing to Buitrago, in a WBO Minimumweight world title eliminator, we've seen Yedras score a trio of low level decision wins as he's regained some career momentum. The wins certainly high quality wins, or the sort of thing that deserve a #1 WBO world ranking, but they were wins that allowed Yedras to rebuild his confidence ahead of a big bout.
Watching footage of Yedras is interesting. He seems like a very strong kid who likes to come forward behind his and get on the inside where his body shots are used to take the wind out of his opponents. It's those body shots which are the key to offensive work and are the most eye catching of his offensive weapons. It's clear from watching him that he likes working on the inside and applying copious amounts of pressure to try and break his opponents down. Typically it's worked, at least against low level competition.
At just 19 years old Tanaka is a “boxing baby” but what a prodigious young fighter he is. As an amateur he was exceptional on the Japanese domestic scene and was unlucky in several international tournaments. As a professional he has proven to be every bit as good as his team said he was. And he's getting better. On his debut he looked fast and talented in his most recent bout however he looked like he could do it all and kept up with the pace of the more experienced, and lightning quick, Ryuji Hara.
What we've yet to see from Tanaka is how he deals with real adversity. Whilst he was, at times, behind against Hara he was never in any real trouble and, at worst, he was only ever 2 rounds behind whilst boxing well within himself. The problem is that it's going to take a very, very special fighter to make Tanaka deal with real problems and most fighters simply don't have the ability to make us question Tanaka. In fact at the moment there is maybe 4 fighters in the division who could pose him questions, and 3 of them are world champions.
Stylistically the question isn't “what does Tanaka do well?” but more “what can't he do?” We've seen him box, we've seen him brawl and we've seen him in seek and destroy mode. There is very little that we've not seen him do so far, and more impressively he seems to do everything incredibly well. At his best however he looks to be a boxer-puncher with near perfect timing, mind blowing punch selection and scary accuracy. Perhaps the one flaw is the questionable power but even that appears to be more solid than his record indicates, maybe not as terrifying as Naoya Inoue's but certainly very solid.
Our first assumption about this fight is that Tanaka will fight as the counter puncher, fighting on the move, hammering his laser-like right in to the face of Yedras, whilst the Mexican comes forward applying his pressure. We suspect if that happens Yedras will come up short in a bout that Tanaka makes look easy. On the other hand however Tanaka has shown a willingness to hold his feet and trade, if he does that here he could well end up seeing off Yedras who leaves a lot of gaps in his defense and is very predictable with his body shots. In fact it could well be a body shot counter that ends the Mexican's hopes.
The one question that hovers over this bout is whether Tanaka can take Yedras's body shots. We know the Mexican has stopped numerous foes with shots to the midsection. We suspect however that Tanaka will take them without too many problems and when he does we're not sure Yedras will have any other weapons with which to even test Tanaka.
If, as we suspect, Tanaka wins there is talk that he will face IBF champion Katsunari Takayama in the summer with the winner likely to get a shot at Hekkie Budler in November. If both of those bouts come off and Tanaka wins both it'll be fair to say he'll be a top contender for the 2015 Fighter of the Year and the clear #1 in the division. Of course this boxing and the best laid plans of promoters and fighters don't always go to as hoped.
(Image courtesy of Kosei Tanaka's blog)
Boxing really does seem to throw out some oddities. Often we get judging and refereeing that leaves a lot to be desired, at the end of the 2014 however we get an oddity by which two world titles will be unified despite the fact neither man involved in the bout goes into the contest as a current champion. The bout, which will be for the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles, has come about after both titles were vacated by Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr and although it's an oddity we suspect it'll be one of the most entertaining fights in recent memory.
The bout in question will see former 3-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (27-7-0-1, 10) battling against Japanese champion Go Odaira (11-3-3, 1). and as you can tell from their records neither man is a puncher though both are tough, active and all action with puncher numbers that many fighters could only dream of.
Originally the bout was set to be just for the IBF title, which Rodriguez had vacated a while back whilst considering his options for the future. Soon after Rodrgiuez then vacated the WBO belt with it becoming obvious that he was leaving the division due to weight struggle. That then allowed the WBO to put their title on the line giving a very peculiar situation, and one made stranger by the fact Rodriguez unified the titles with a victory over Takayama.
Whilst Takayama did lose to Rodriguez, in a genuine 2014 FOTY contender, he is a bonafide world class Minimumweight. He is universally regarded in the top 10 and may well be the stand out fighter currently without a title. That may seem hard to believe considering his record but Takayama has always shown a willingness to fight the best and, as a result, has suffered losses to elite level fighters. Not only has he been fighting the best but he has also shown a willingness to travel to the champions back yard where he has certainly had some misfortune go against him.
Going through the record of Takayama reads like a who's who of the top Minimumweights from the last 10 years. It includes the likes of Isaac Bustos, Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Of those men it was was only really Roman Gonzalez that dominated Takayama, and in fact had Takayama all over the place late in the bout. Not only doe these bouts prove Takayama belongs at the world level but they'll have also helped him develop as a fighter giving him rounds, and rounds, of top level experience.
At best Takayama is capable of boxing and moving, as he did wonderfully against Vergilio Silvano, though he often seems to get himself involved in fan friendly tear ups showing a real heart and determination to not only win but excite fans whilst winning. Sadly for a man who enjoys a brawl Takayama does lack real power but makes up for it in terms of his insane toughness, workrate and his refusal to just lose.
Whilst Takayama is well known by fans of the lower weights due to his bouts against the crem de la crem the same cannot be said for Odaira who is completely unknown to those who don't follow the Japanese scene.
Prior to this year Odaira was a genuine unknown, even for those who followed Japanese boxing religiously. He was 8-3-3 (1), had never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 8 rounds and, aside from a victory over Takashi Kunishige, and a loss to the then unproven Ryuji Hara, there was little on his record to talk about. This year however has been a genuine career year already for Odaira who has won the Japanese Minimumweight title, with a decision over Masashi Tada, and defended it twice by over-coming Yuma Iwahashi and Hiroya Yamamoto.
In all 3 of his wins this year Odaira has looked like a fighter who is improving and developing a real understand of what is it, to be a professional boxer. He seems to know his weaknesses and his strengths and has really began fighting like a man who knows who he needs to do to make the most of his career. That has seen him focussing on his natural speed, his movement and his energy. He now fights a lot like his manager Susumu Hanagata and is always on the move, always looking to pump out the jab and always trying to be busy. He knows he's not going to knock fighters out but knows there's more than one way to skin a cat and winning with crisp punching is just as good as winning by knockout. Notably the style did take Hanagata to a world title back in the 1970's.
Although Odaira has speed to burn he is stepping up in class, notably for this bout and really hasn't shared the ring with anyone quite like Takayama. That's not to say he can't hold his own but that he is stepping up massively for this bout and that can come with a lot of pressure, especially given that this will be his first near the top of a major show with fans around the world tuning in.
What we're expecting here is for both men to begin the contest with boxing in mind. Both will punch on the move and try to work their way in. It's what happens in the second stage of the contest that really decides how this bout goes. If Takayama can hold his own in terms of boxing with Odaira this could be a really high paced boxing contest with both throw copious amounts of jabs. Alternatively if Takayama feels he can't box the boxer then he'll bring the fight and we'll have Takayama trying to brawl with Odaira in what would make for one of the most action packed fights of the year.
If it does turn into a brawl then the action will be insane. Neither man will be expected to hurt the other and will feel they need to out work the other man leading to long and exciting trading sequences between two men. When they happen we suspect Takayama will get the upper hand and will do enough to impress the judges with his more varied assaults up close.
If the bout doesn't break out into a brawl we suspect Takayama takes a close and very competitive decision, if he can force the brawl and exchanges then he'll take home a clearer win.
We suspect Takayama will win and become the first 4-time world champion from Japan and the first Japanese fighter to claim a version of all 4 belts. If Odaira wins however then he has a serious claim for being the breakthrough fighter of the year, even surpassing Amnat Ruenroeng in that respect. It really would complete an amazing year for Yokohama man.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
This coming weekend's major fight, at least for us anyway, is in Mexico as Japan's incredibly brave and criminally under-rated Katsunari Takayama (27-6-0-1, 10) attempts to unify his IBF Minimumweight title with the WBO title currently held by the big punching Francisco Rodriguez Jr (14-2, 10). The bout, one of the very few Minimumweight title unifications, is a major one for both men who are both looking to claim that they are the best at 105lbs.
For Takayama this bout is a special one. It's his chance to became the first ever Japanese fighter to claim a "Grandslam" and to have won a version of all 4 of the major titles, thus achieving one of the goals he set out to accomplish when he returned to the sport after his short lived retirement. It's certainly a big ask but it's something he seems confident of doing.
For Rodriguez this continues his rapid rise through the sport following his victory over Merlito Sabillo earlier this year. It was that victory over Sabillo that saw Rodriguez winning his WBO belt and announcing himself as a serious force in the Minimumweight division.
Takayama, for those who haven't followed his career, has been one of the true "will fight anyone, anywhere" type fighters. This has seen him travelling to South Africa 3 times, including two fights Nkosinathi Joyi, the Philippines to fight Mateo Handig and to Mexico to fight Mario Rodriguez. In total Takayama has fought just 2 of his last 7 bouts in his native Japan.
Not only has Takayama fought top fighters on the road but he has also fought top fighters in his native Japan. This has included a fight with the brilliant Roman Gonzalez, Yutaka Niida and Eagle Den Junlaphan. In fact going through Takayama's record there are very few fighters that he didn't fight in the Minimumweight division such as Akira Yaegashi and Ivan Calderon.
For Rodriguez this will be his fourth fight with a notable foe. As mentioned above he holds an outstanding victory over Merlito Sabillo and he also holds a win over Manuel Vargas whilst his most recent loss came, via stoppage, to the sensational Roman Gonzalez. It's arguably the Gonzalez fight, in Nicaragua, that told more about Rodriguez than any other. It showed he was tough, despite being stopped, that his work rate was solid and that for a 20 year old he had real potential.
Young, powerful and strong we really do think that Rodriguez is a serious threat to Takayama and could well upset the popular and talented Japanese fighter much like he upset Sabillo. He is a pressure fighter with a growing confidence and ever developing skills that could help make him one of the divisional kingpins over the next few years, if he stays at 105lbs which it's self is a debate and a half.
Going for Takayama however are a number of things, not least his experience against the divisional elite. He is also one of the toughest and bravest fighters out there and if nothing else he has shown an ability to survive, in fact his sole KO loss, way back in 2003, came from over-confidence. Most importantly however is his energy and against a pressure fighter that could well be the key for him to succeed. He has proven capable of being able to fight at a great pace from the opening round to the final bell and, despite being hurt though his career he has been able to bounce back and recover excellently.
Although we tend to feel Takayama has a lot of advantages going in to the fight he has also had major issues in the build up to the bout. Firstly he saw his trainer, manager and mentor Hiroaki Nakade spend time in hospital early in his training camp. That was because Nakade needed an aneurysm removing and whilst he seems to have recovered from surgery it will have been an unwelcome distraction for Takayama. Another problem that has troubled his camp has been a cut over his right eye which was accidentally opened by Naoya Inoue in sparring. That cut, suffered just weeks before the fight, saw several planned spars cancelled and will have seriously thrown a spanner into Takayama's training plans. Thankfully it appears that that facial damage has healed though it is a target for Rodriguez to aim for and the talk is that Takayama really struggled in the spar with Inoue.
We'd like to think that Takayama will win, though we know he's in a very tough contest here and we'd certainly not be surprised at all to see him pushed all the way in a very hard bout. Of course bouts that fought on foreign soil do come with the risk of the judges being swayed by the home fighter and sadly we see that being an issue here. Takayama, for all his skills, isn't a fighter who stops opponents and we'd be shocked if he manages to see off Rodriguez which means it's likely this one is going 12 and we think Rodriguez will get the nod, albeit a controversial one.
(Image courtesy of http://nakazatoboxing.com)
Last year was a funny year for unbeaten Filipino Merlito Sabillo (23-0-1, 12). He started the year a complete unknown before stopping Colombian Luis De la Rosa to claim the WBO interim Minimumweight title. From this his popularity blossomed and he looked very solid in his first defense, stopping the limited Colombian Jorle Estrada in the 9th round.
Unfortunately for Sabillo his second defense didn't go so well and he struggled to a draw with Nicaragua's exciting youngster Carlos Buitrago. It was a fight that could have been a contender for Fight of the Year though many felt the result was a home town decision to keep Buitrago as the champion.
Whatever you thought of the Sabillo/Buitrago result is immaterial now and Sabillo will be looking to put it behind him as he travels to Mexico for his 3rd defense. Whilst it would have been nice to see him give Buitrago a rematch on neutral soil Sabillo will instead be facing dangerous Mexican Francisco Rodriguez Jr (13-2, 9), a man ranked #10 by the WBO at Minimumweight and #14 by the WBC at Light Flyweight.
Although a relative unknown the 20 year old Rodriguez is a a fighter with more than 3 years of professional experience under his belt. Those 3 years and 15 professional contests have seen him sharing the ring with some decent fighters, most notable Roman Gonzalez, who stopped Rodriguez in 7 rounds,
and Manuel Vargas, who was stopped in 3 by Rodriguez.
What we know of Rodriguez is that he is gutsy, you don't fight Roman Gonzalez unless you have real guts and courage and he is hard hitting with 9 stoppages in 13 wins. However he's also limited in terms of his boxing ability and the few decision wins he does, other than his most recent against Ernesto Guerrero, have been close. It seems that if his power doesn't take you out then he struggles.
Sabillo on the other hand is a talented fighter who has come from a street fighting background and has since had to develop into a boxer. In terms of his power he wasn't blessed with it but had to work on it. His first 11 bouts saw him scoring just 3 stoppages and his first 18 fights saw him with just 7 stoppages. Since then however he has began to believe in his own power and scored 5 stoppages in 6 fights with only Carlos Buitrago surviving 12 rounds with the Filipino.
In terms of experience it's to pick against Sabillo who has proven he's a warrior, proven his toughness and even proven that he's capable of fighting well on the road with his victory last year in Colombia. He might not be anything special but he's that solid type of fighter who will never be easy to beat and in fact it'll take a true divisional elite to beat him.
As for Rodriguez, he may have home advantage but it's hard to see him making it to the final bell. It took Gonzalez 7 rounds to stop the Mexican and whilst Sabillo doesn't hit as hard as "Chocolatito" we don't imagine it'll take him much longer to see off the Mexican maybe 9 or 10 rounds.
Hopefully the winner here will give Buitrago a shot later in the year though we could understand both fighters being apprehensive of "Chocorroncito".
(Photo courtesy of http://www.alaboxing.com)
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.