By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On New Year’s Eve, we will witness a clash of 3 division World Champions, as Kazuto Ioka and Donnie Nietes will square off for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight World Championship, in Macau, China.
Kazuto Ioka (23-1/13 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 as well as a four time winner of the National Sports Festival.
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 Minimumweight 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 Minimumweight 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 World 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 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 knocked out 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. Now, only one man stands between him and his dream and that’s non other than fellow 3 division champion Donnie Nietes.
Donnie Nietes (41-1/23 KOs) a 15 year veteran of the sport, began his career back in 2003, amassing 21 wins in 25 fights (1 split decision loss and 3 draws) before challenging for his first world title. Nietes fought a 20-0 future WBA champion Somporn Seeta, for the vacant WBO Minimumweight World Championship, in 2007.
An action packed encounter, the Filipino was repeatedly nailing Seeta with body shots and uppercuts through out their match and even managed to drop him with a counter right hook in the fourth round. When the dust had settled, he was crowned the new world champion.
Nietes made four successful title defenses as Minimumweight champion, over Eddy Castro, Eric Ramirez, interim WBO champion Manuel Vargas and future IBF champion Mario Rodriguez, before challenging Ramon Garcia Hirales for the WBO Light Flyweight World Title. It was a smart play from Nietes that saw him consistently wearing Hirales down. The Mexican fought back for a while but, as the match progressed, he was too exhausted to do anything significant. In the end, “The Snake” was a 2 division world champion and embarked on a long championship reign that lasted almost 5 years, boasting an impressive number of nine defenses.
His biggest victories as Light Flyweight champion were against Moises Fuentes, Sammy Gutierrez, Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and Raul Garcia. Specifically, he fought Fuentes twice during his run with the belt, as their initial meeting ended in a majority draw. Prior to their rematch, Nietes first dispatched former interim WBA Minimumweight and WBC Silver Light Flyweight champion Sammy Gutierrez.
The Filipino chased his opponent relentlessly, dropping him twice in just the opening round. Gutierrez tried to turn it to a brawl, but got cracked by a straight right punch to the chin. Fuentes, also a 2 division champion, got his shot again a year later but this time Nietes was far more aggressive than his was before, taking Fuentes by surprise and eventually knocking him out in the ninth. Compared to the previous bouts, the Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and Raul Garcia fights (former WBO & IBF Minimumweight World Champions) were slower and less exciting. At least in his match with Garcia, the pace gradually picked up and even scored two knockdowns.
In 2016, Nietes sought new opportunities as he moved up to Flyweight. His skills were put to test immediately as he faced former WBC Light Flyweight World Champion Edgar Sosa, for the vacant WBO Intercontinental title. Sosa, a well rounded veteran (52-11), had been a long time WBC International and Silver Flyweight champion, giving him the experience factor in this division. This didn’t hinder the Snake at all as he took the fight to the Mexican striker, throwing bombs and some sweet combinations in the last rounds that earned him a very wide unanimous decision and the strap.
About 8 months later, Nietes went up against Komgrich Nantapech for the vacant IBF Flyweight World Championship. Komgrich, despite being a “lesser” opponent, considering the level of competition Nietes had already faced, gave the Filipino a bigger fight than anticipated. His power and speed kept him into the fight until the last round, making him look good against a much better fighter than himself. In the end however, Nietes’ experience came to play, as he kept Nantapech at a safe distance, while peppering him with shots, scoring more on the judges’ scorecards. Once again, Nietes had his arm raised, as he was declared a 3 division champion.
Nietes’ one and only IBF title defense took place earlier this year, in America, when he stopped former WBA Flyweight World Champion Juan Carlos Reveco in the seventh round, after catching him with a right hook, followed by a flurry of body shots and then landing a devastating left uppercut. Reveco could barely stand on his own two feet, leaving his corner no choice but to throw in the towel.
This past September, Nietes had a chance to become a 4 division champion, in less than 2 years. His fight with top ranked Super Flyweight boxer Aston Palicte, for the vacant WBO belt, ended in a split decision draw, a decision that was questioned by many, since Nietes was way busier, landing more punches than Palicte, as well as more accurate ones. As faith would have it, Nietes will once again get another crack at the same price that unfairly escaped his grip, before the year is over, when he collides with Kazuto Ioka in Macau.
This is a fight of epic proportions. We are talking about two men that have been world champions for the majority of their careers, winning the gold in three different divisions. Their paths have been quite similar and an encounter was only inevitable. Ioka as well as Nietes are strong, intelligent fighters, with a tone of experience. Which one will have the edge here? Ioka is the more aggressive boxer, with a higher KO percentage, overall and in championship matches only. Nietes is the more conservative one, as he doesn’t go for the kill as often as his rival, but knows how to take his time and how to surgically pick his foes apart. Ioka’s excellent body work should be taken into consideration, as it has been his most important weapon through out his career. Nietes also likes to attack the body, creating openings so he can strike the head. The speed has to be on Ioka’s side. In spite of his long absence, his combinations were as fast and accurate as before he retired, whereas Nietes has slowed down a bit, as it was evident in the Nantapech bout. On the other hand, the experience sides with Nietes, as he has been involved in 47 matches in the past 15 years. All in all, this is clearly anyone’s game, which is the reason why this fight is so exciting. Who will leave Macau a Super Flyweight champion for the first time? Tune in on NYE to find out!
All Filipino world title fights are rare, in fact the IBF Super Flyweight world title bout earlier this year between Jerwin Ancajas and Jonas Sultan was the first in over 90 years! Like a bus, you wait for an age and then two come around at once. This coming Saturday we'll get another all Filipino world title bout, as Donnie Nietes (41-1-4, 23) and Aston Palicte (24-2, 20) battle for the now vacant WBO Super Flyweight title.
Of the two fighters Nietes is the more well known and the more highly regarded. His long, 46 fight, career began more than 15 years ago and yet the 36 year old “Ahas” is still looking sensational. He's avoided taking much damage, he a very young 36 and is someone who has carved out a really brilliant career for himself. That career has seen him claim the WBO Minimumweight title, the WBO Light Flyweight title, the WBA Flyweight title and is now going for the WBO Super Flyweight title.
Whilst titles and a the numbers on a fighter's record alone doesn't prove how good someone is it's worth noting that the competition Nietes has faced is world class. He won his first world title in September 2007, defeating Pornsawan Porpramook and since then he has scored wins over Jesus Silvestre, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Edgar Sosa and Juan Carlos Reveco to name just a few of Niete's victims.
Unlike many fighters who go through the lower weights, such as Roman Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue, Nietes' isn't a big puncher. Instead he relies almost solely on ring craft, skills and experience. Defensively he's very smart, with intelligent counter punching, and very sharp crisp shots. Technically he's a boxing genius. He's not been blessed with a frightening power, or freakish size, but he's got such a high ring IQ that's he's going to be a very hard fighter to beat. That is unless father time gets to him before he gets into the ring, and father time certainly didn't seem close to him in February when he dominated Reveco.
Whilst Nietes is a 3-weight world champion this will actually be Palicte's first world title bout, but the 27 year old will feel very confident that he has the size, speed and power to over-come Nietes. He will have several inches of both height and reach advantage over Nietes as well as the clear youth advantage, but will be stepping up significantly in class. He doesn't have the notable names on his record, with his best wins being over Vergilio Silvano, Oscar Cantu, John Mark Apolinario and Jose Alfredo Rodriguez. He should also have had a win over Junior Grandos, but the judges favoured the home town man in a very poor decision.
In the ring Palicte is a bit of a rough diamond. He's very exciting, very heavy handed and throws devastating combinations. Offensively he's great to watch however he can be out boxed, and if fighters force him to move they can cause him real problems, with his less than amazing footwork, and he also drops his hands a little too much when he's throwing punches. Those flaws are things a fighter can get away at the Oriental level, but at world level he will have to tighten up, a lot, especially against someone with the ring craft of Nietes.
If Palicte can use his reach, youth and size he has got a chance to keep Nietes on the outside, but that hasn't usually been Palicte's style. If Palicte is looking to get inside then he really needs to hope his power will be too much for Neites. If it is, and if he can land early and get Nietes's respect, he has a real chance. It should however be noted that Nietes is good on the inside, and will likely be able to hold his own with Palicte. It really comes down to whether the youngster can hurt the old lion.
If this is fought as a boxing match we feel like the skills of Nietes will simply be too much for Palicte and his defensive flaws. If Palicte can however hurt Nietes, set him off his game early on and grind him down, whilst fighting through the counters. That's easier said than done, and given the defensive failings of Palicte we don't think he'll manage to do it often enough. There will be huge moments for Palicte, but we suspect he'll come up short and lose a clear, but hard fought, 12 round decision. If that happens then Nietes joins Roman Gonzalez and Leo Gamez as the only men to claim world titles in the 4 smallest weight classes.
In the last 12 months we've seen the Super Flyweight division get a significant amount of international attention, with notable fights in the division taking place outside of the usual countries for “the little men”. This has included Super Flyweight world title bouts taking place in Australia, England, Northern Ireland and the US, and the huge success of the “Superfly” show on HBO. Sadly though that success hasn't made life easy for Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12). The Japanese fighter as defended his WBO title twice this year, and will make his 7th total defense on December 30th, but has seen top contenders rule themselves out of bouts with him in early 2018.
Rather than continue to battle the politics of the sport Inoue has stated he is after big challengers, and this coming Saturday he will likely fight at 115lbs for the final time. That bout will see him face French challenger Yoan Boyeaux (41-4-0-1, 26), with the visitor looking to secure a career best win, and Inoue looking to bid farewell to the division in style.
For those who have lived under a rock the last few years Inoue is the new face of Japanese boxing. He's a fighter who combines elite skills with frightening power, lighting speed and a desire to both put on a show and challenge himself. He raced through the rankings at break neck speed, winning a Japanese title in his 4th fight, an OPBF title in his 5th and his first world title in his 6th bout. After just a single defense of his first world title he jumped up 2 divisions and blitzed Omar Narvaez to become a 2-division champion and has since gone 6-0 (5) in Super Flyweight world title defenses.
Dubbed the “Monster” Inoue is a frightening in the ring. He's a naturally strong and powerful guy but doesn't rely on that natural strength to win. Instead that power and physicality has become part of a fighter who is very highly skilled and incredibly fluid. He throws some of the best combinations in the sport, can throw some great counter shots and although an offensive force he is also able to fight on the back foot, even as an aggressive fighter on the back foot. Every fight he seems to show something new and he has has added things like the ability to switch to his game in recent years.
Looking for flaws with Inoue is hard, but there is some. He is sometimes unable to transition defense to offense, and is sometimes happier to see out his opponents assaults before returning fire, rather than using his counter punching skills. He can also switch off and although he is developing the mental side of his game there are times when he looks bored and frustrated, which included his last bout when he had clearly gotten sick of Antonio Nieves running away from him in round 6. If he can stay mentally sharp there is going to be very,very few fighters who can really test him, which could explain why so many at 115lbs are doing their best to avoid him.
Aged 29 Boyeaux is a bit of a young veteran. He debuted in 2009 but has amazingly racked 46 bouts into his career, and has been a genuine globe trotter. He has fought in France, England, Croatia, Serbia, Argentina, Brazil, Slovakia, Hungary and Morocco. Not only has he fought on the road a lot but he has also adapted his style from a typically European one to a an aggressive one thanks to spending a significant amount of time in Argentina. Not only has he been active but also successful and is riding an impressive 31-0-0-1 run, following an inauspicious 10-4 start.
One thing to note about Boyeaux is his competition hasn't been great. His most notable opponents were those opponents he faced in his early losses, with Carl Frampton and Josh Wale both beating him in the UK and Anthony Settoul beating him in France. That level of competition isn't going to prepare a fighter for Inoue, and instead Boyeaux will have to be hoping that his training camp and natural ability will be able to carry him through the bout.
Watching Boyeaux in action we have a very tall Super Flyweight, who is said to be around 5'7”, he's a fighter with the build to be a good outside fight but instead he has has shown a more aggressive and pressure based style which. He throws a lot of leather and looks to march down his foes, with a nice selection of shots. Sadly for all his aggression and output Boyeaux does seem to have a relative lack of power and will likely have a style that accentuates just how good Inoue is.
We expect to see the challenger take the fight to Inoue, look to put himself in the driving seat, like a number of other Inoue foes. After a round or two however he will realise that he needs to change gameplan, with Inoue counter, and pushing him back. For a few rounds Boyeaux may be able to have some moments, but before long Inoue's power, combinations, body punching and accuracy will be too much for the challenger, who will be stopped, likely in the middle rounds.
This coming weekend is quite possibly the biggest ever weekend for the Super Flyweight division as we get a stacked divisional suer show. Part of that show is the US debut of Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue (13-0, 11), who will be giving the wider boxing world a chance to see what the fuss is all about. He will be doing so as he defends the WBO Super Flyweight title against once beaten American challenger Antonio Nieves (17-1-2, 9) in a bout being aired all over the globe.
For Inoue the bout might be his US debut but he's already an established professional and will be seeking his 6th defense of the WBO title. Even more impressively is the fact that this bout will be his 9th world title bout, and his 11th career title bout, two genuinely amazing feats for a fighter who is still only 24 and has been a professional for less than 5 years.
Whilst we suspect regular readers here will be very aware of Inoue and what he brings to the ring others might be just hearing of his name for the first time. Those who have seen him will be fully aware that he's one of those special boxers who really can do anything in the ring, and seems to be constantly adding new things to his arsenal. He showed incredible pure boxing skills early in his career, then impressed with showing an ability to fight as a pressure fighter, mowing throwing Jerson Mancio for the Oriental title in his 4th professional bout. He can box, he can bang, he can move, he can counter punch and in recent outings he's also shown he can do it as a southpaw as well.
Those who haven't seen him really have missed out on his rapid rise through the ranks, but of course it's never too late to be won over by a fighter, and that's what is likely to happen this weekend when Inoue gets a chance to shine on US soil.
Dubbed “The Monster” due to his freakish physical strength and punching power he really is a brute in terms of how hard he hits, but he doesn't fight like a pure puncher. Instead he seems to switch between fighting on the back foot as a counter puncher and on the front foot as an all out pressure fighter. He controls the range whilst choosing which style he wants to employ and has every punch in the book. He switches between head and body with natural fluidity rarely seen in the ring, his movements all seem to be a step ahead of those of his opponents and his finishing instincts are among the very best in the sport.
Although a sensational talent Inoue isn't flawless. Physically he has had recurrent hand issues, with regular damage to his right hand, and in the ring he has been seen to turn off, with that issue prevalent against Petchbarngborn when he dropped his hands and ate several clean shots following a low blow. A lack of in ring experience may be to blame, but it's still a chink in his armour and something that will need to be tidied up before he moves up in weight again, as he begins to chase a third divisional title.
Of course Inoue isn't going to be shadow boxing and he will have to over-come American foe Nieves if he's to leave America as a champion, and not damage his reputation as one of the sports best fighters. The American is no push over and the Ohio native is a very credible fighter himself. He's typically been fighting up at Bantamweight, and even Super Bantamweight, and has yet to be stopped during his 20 fight career. Not only has he not been stopped but his only defeat has been a very close one to talented Russian Nikolai Potapov, with that loss coming this past March.
Footage of Nieves shows that he's an aggressive fighter, who likes to come forward and has heavy, but not concussive, power. He can apply smart pressure, switches between head and body well and looks to be a solid all-rounder, but not someone who excels in any specific area. He does however keep a solid work rate, and is pretty accurate, though this is a massive step up for him.
Although naturally fighting at a higher weight it's not expected to be an issue for Nieves, who is a relatively small Bantamweight and has come in light for the 118lb division in the past, suggesting he can easily make Super Flyweight. The fact he has been fighting at the higher weights is however a sign that he can take a solid shot but he's to face a world class fighter, and this is a major step up for him.
If Nieves can take a shot, he could make Inoue work really hard for the win, but we suspect the American will be broken down in the middle rounds as Inoue looks to make a statement and announce himself to a whole new audience. The big issue for him will be staying relaxed, not trying to force things and fighting his fight. If he can do that then he will almost instantly win over the US fans, who will be begging to see more of him. If he rushes things and becomes scrappy he could find himself looking less than sensational, and like another “hype job”, which would be considered a genuine disappointment for the Kanagawa.
Of all the world title fights taking place this coming weekend perhaps one of them stands out as a horrible mismatch, where the champion is so strongly expected to retain his title that fans may not be excited by the match in question. Saying that however those same fans are likely to be excited by the favourite, simply because he is such an exceptional talent, and it's hard not to be excited about the fighter, even if the bout is likely to be a mismatch.
That bout will see WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (12-0, 10) return to the ring to make the 5th defense of his title, and take on WBO #2 ranked contender Ricardo Rodriguez (16-3, 5), who is getting his first world title fight. Rodriguez will be widely viewed as a man being thrown to the slaughter, and typically that's a type of fight fans don't like, however when a fighter is a good as Inoue then fans are happy just to see someone like him fight.
The Japanese youngster was ear marked for success from way back in the amateurs, which he dominated domestically. That talent saw him being snapped up by Ohashi gym as a teenager and being guided quickly through the rankings. The rise saw Inoue claim a Japanese title in his 4th fight, an OPBF title in his 5th bout and a world title in his 6th bout. During that rise the showed tremendous speed, skill, accuracy and scary power. Those traits allowed him to jump from Light Flyweight to Super Flyweight, and destroy Omar Andres Narvaez to become a 2-weight champion in just 8 career bouts.
As a Super Flyweight champion Inoue has been impressive without really showing how good he actually is. He ended a year long break from the ring, due to hand injuries, by dismantling Warlito Parrenas in 2 rounds, then re-injured his hand a bout later in a 1-sided 12 round decision win over David Carmona. A 1-sided win over Petchbarngborn Kokietgym followed but again didn't show Inoue shine, in fact he showed some ring-immaturity in that bout. Most recently he stopped the teak tough Kohei Kono, in probably his best performance since winning the title.
Although Inoue hasn't looked his best recently, he's still been head and shoulders better than anyone he's faced and has shown all sorts. He can box, he can bang, he can brawl, he can move and he can counter. There are flaws, mostly defensive ones, with Inoue but he's so destructive and looks so physically tough that a fighter will have to not only exploit his flaws, and there are very few, but also avoid being tagged themselves.
Whilst Inoue is regarded as one of the best little men in the sport, with wins over 4 men who have held world titles, less is known about Rodriguez. The 27 year is an American based Mexican born fighter who debuted in 2011 and has mixed in decent company, but never really shown that he belongs in the ring with someone like Inoue. In fact it's fair to say that his most notable results have been two competitive losses to former Inoue foe David Carmona. His best wins have been over Jonathan Vidal, Miguel Cartagena and David Quijano and Carlos Narvaez, contender types but not champion level fighters.
Known as "Meserito" the 27 year old has spent his time fighting between the US and Mexico, having gone 9-0 in the US and 7-3 in Mexico. This will be his first bout outside of those two countries and he comes into it in good form, having won his last 4 bouts. From the footage he's an aggressive fighter with nice body shots and a good output, but nothing sensational, and his defense doesn't seem to be the tightest, with his foot work looking slow and his power being less than imposing. Arguably his most impressive attribute looks to be his hand speed and he does throw some lovely flash combinations.
Although he's faced some good opponents this is a huge step up in class for Rodriguez and it's clear that with the travel and the top class opponent that he's up against he's going to be the under-dog. He's a decent fighter, but this really is a whole different level to what he's been competing at. Hee's in with someone who will out manoeuvred him, out speed him and out punch him, and the flurries he has had success with will be countered here.
What we're expecting is for Inoue to invite the pressure, and look to land some vicious counter shots, looking for a finish in the middle rounds ahead of his US debut in September. Rodriguez will come to fight, and will have his moments, but simply won't be able to cope when Inoue goes through the gears. Rodriguez has never been stopped before, but it's hard to see him last 12 rounds here with the Monster.
On the final two days of 2016 Japanese fight fans will get a series of world title bouts, ranging from intriguing rematches to complete mismatches. One of the most anticipated of those bouts will see WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (11-0, 9) return to the ring to seek his 4th defense of the title, as he takes on former 2-time WBA champion Kohei Kono (32-9-1, 13), and looks to secure one of the most notable wins of his career.
If you ask a typical western boxing fan right now what Japanese fighters they could name Inoue will be one of the few names on their lips, a sad fact in many ways but one that shows the appeal of the “Monster” who has been named dropped across Western boxing media, including by HBO. The 23 year old Kanagawa fighter isn't just a name who has been dropped by Western media but also by every hardcore fight fan, many of whom have seen Inoue fight either live on Fuji TV or on Youtube, and understandably they have been impressed by a youngster who combines exceptional skills, power and speed.
Inoue burst out in 2014 when he claimed the WBC Light Flyweight title, stopping Adrian Hernandez in 6 rounds, and then went on to claim the WBO Super Flyweight title with a stoppage against Omar Andres Narvaez. Those bouts saw Inoue prove he was the monster and saw him claiming world titles in his 6th and 8th bouts as a professional, with the win over Narvaez exciting people to a potential show down with Roman Gonzalez.
Although Inoue hasn't looked his best in recent bouts, wins over David Carmona and Petchbarngborn Kokietgym, he has been plagued by issues including over-training and over-looking his opponents. Coming in to the bout with Kono however he has cut back his training and will have taken Kono seriously, knowing this is a huge chance to remind fans just how good he is, how fast he is and how destructive he is.
During a 42 fight career Kono has been one of boxing's true over-achievers. He lost on debut back in November 2000 and suffered his second lost in his 10th bout to fall to 8-2 (2). He again fell to a loss in 2005 as his record fell to 14-3 (4). At that point his career could easily have fallen by the way side but instead he took lessons from those losses and avenged that third defeat less than 2 years later as he claimed the Japanese Super Flyweight title, his first professional title. He would later unify with the OPBF title in 2008 but failed to claim a world title in his first attempt, losing in a thriller to Nobuo Nashiro. A second loss at world level occurred in 2010, to Tomas Rojas, before he suffered losses to Yota Sato and Yohei Tobe, falling to 25-7 (9).
Amazingly since the start of 2012 Kono's career has gone 7-2-1 (4) with wins against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym, Tepparith Kokietgym, to claim his first world title, Denkaosan Kaovichit, to claim his second title, Koki Kameda and Inthanon Sithchamuang whilst losses have come in close decisions to to Liborio Solis and Luis Concepcion.
In the ring Kono is an incredibly tough man, he has been down several times during his career, and has been hurt even more often, but has never stopped coming forward and trying to fight. Although tougher than old boots Kono is technically limited, a bit slow, and likes to walk forward before letting his hands go. He's solid with a high work rate and a great energy level but he doesn't really work to get his way in and instead applies often clumsy pressure, allowing fighters to out work and out move him.
Whilst Inoue's last few opponents haven't been exceptional it's fair to say Kono is genuine world class. Sadly though Inoue has been better against top opponents than against the lesser foes and his father has set a more relaxed training regime this time, to help prevent injuries. With that in mind we're expecting to see the best Inoue to date, and we're expecting to see him use his speed and power to dismantle a tough, and brave, Kono within 9 rounds.
For a second day running we get the chance to see a Super Flyweight world title fight, essentially giving us lower weight fight fans a brilliant one two, and in fact it will be third bout in the division in less than a week.
This time we see Japanese star, and current WBO champion, Naoya Inoue (10-0, 8) defending his title against Thai veteran Petchbarngborn Kokietgym (38-7-1, 18). The bout, the headline bout of a card at the Sky Arena in Zama, sees Inoue returning to fight at home for the first time since he took the Japanese title in the same arena more than 3 years ago. The bouts in between have all taken place in Tokyo. For Petchbarngborn sees him returning to Japan for the first time in almost 3 years, following a 2nd round TKO defeat to Sho Ishida in Osaka.
For the champion this will be his third defense of the title that he won in incredible fashion at the end of 2014, when he demolished Omar Andres Narvaez in 2 rounds. Since that win he has been plagued with hand injuries however he has still light up the boxing scene when he has fought, with a particularly impressive return to the ring last December against Warlito Parrenas.
Despite looking impressive against Narvaez and Parrenas Inoue was made to look human last time out, at times, as he went the distance with mandatory challenger David Carmona. Although he went the 12 round distance for the first time Inoue showed that he had the stamina to do 12 and came close to scoring a stoppage in the final seconds.
At his best Inoue is nothing short of breath taking. He's lightning quick, incredibly fluid and makes the sport of boxing look natural. He's incredibly calm in the ring, controls range with easy and make offensive boxing an art form with combinations that many fighters can only dream of. Not only does he have the speed and skill to do magical things in the ring but the power, with both hands, to really hurt fighters.
The Thai, who boxrec now list by his birth name of Karoon Jarupianlerd, is a bit of an under-whelming challenger for Inoue, though in many ways is a man who knows he has a great opportunity. That opportunity however has arisen mostly on the basis that the top fighters in the division are all booked up with other fights, mostly mandatory title bouts. He has also gotten this opportunity following Paul Butler's inability to make weight, with Butler having had to pull out of an eliminator with the Thai earlier in the year.
Petchbarngborn has experience of fighting in Japan with 5 bouts in country prior to facing Inoue. Sadly for the Thai however he is 1-4 in the country, with his sole stoppage loss coming in his last visit to the country, when Sho Ishida stopped him in 2 rounds. It would be easy to write him off given his form in Japan however he ran Kohei Kono incredibly close 4 years ago and blasted out Tomoya Kaneshiro at the end of 2012.
Coming in to this one the Thai is riding a 16 fight winning run, with 9 wins by T/KO, they may not have come against great opponents but his confidence will be high thanks to that run. He is also an improved fighter to the one who fought Ishida and looks like a fighter who has developed some solid skills. Despite having solid skills he is, all honestly, a long way from having any world class ability, and to beat Inoue a fighter needs to be world class in a lot of areas.
For Inoue the bout really should be a showcase defense, a quick blow out and a chance to test out the hands, both of which were bruised last time out against Carmona. However the pressure is on him to look good with all the attention being on him moving towards a bout with the winner of next weekend's WBC title bout between Carlos Cuadras and Roman Gonzalez. Petchbarngborn will be looking to play the spoiler to Inoue's potential mega-fight however we suspect the Thai's best hopes would be to put on a brave effort in a loss rather than look to score the upset of the year.
Over the last few months we've seen the Japanese boxing scene change drastically. We've seen a number of retirements, a number of title changes and we've seen several of the top fighters begin to look their age. Whilst that sounds bad for Japanese boxing the truth is that the new wave of fighters already appear to be here, lead by WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (9-0, 8) [井上 尚弥] who returns to the ring on May 8th to defend his title against mandatory challenger David Carmona (20-2-5, 8).
The Japanese 23 year old looks not only like a genuine star but looks like one of the most complete fighters on the planet, and a man who may well go one to not only “break America” but become a genuine sporting star. Out of the ring he's naturally charismatic, charming and in the ring he's exciting, aggressive and and a genuine phenomenon. It's easy to just look at his record and claim he's a novice but the reality is that he's a very special fighter and already holds notable wins over Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez and Omar Andres Narvaez, with the win over Narvaez being the win that really generated an international buzz about the “Monster”.
In the ring Inoue combines frighting power with lightning speed and incredible boxing ability. Looking for a flaw in Inoue's boxing is next to impossible right now and almost everything he does looks incredibly fluid, as if he was a well oiled, perfectly designed fighting machine.
For those who haven't followed Inoue they may have only seen a couple of his fights, perhaps only his destruction of Narvaez from late 2014, and his most recent bout against Warlito Parrenas. If they are the only two bouts you've seen you'd perhaps think he was just an incredible seek and destroy fighter. The reality however is that he's a brilliant pure boxer who can box on the back foot, as he did in his second bout against Ngaoprajan Chuwatana, and he can box and move, as he did against Yuki Sano, in a bout that he fought mostly 1-handed.
He has become a seek and destroy fighter, but the reality is that he has a lot in his locker and we suspect he can pull what he needs, when he needs, if he needs. The fact he has shown an ability to box, bang, brawl and counter really is a worrying thing for his opponents, as is the fact the he appears to be getting better and already seems to have some of the best body punches, and combinations in world boxing.
When it comes to the challenger there is, unfortunately, little that really stands out about the 25 year old Mexican. In fact in many ways he appears to be a man who really has done very, very, very little to deserve a mandatory title fight. His first bout of note came back in 2013, when he narrowly beat Danny Flores for the WBO Youth title, and after two defenses he was given his first world title fight. That world title fight ended with Carmona being stopped in 7 rounds by Narvaez back in December 2013, in what was impressively Carmona's 5th bout of the year.
Since losing to Narvaez we've seen Carmona go 4-0-1, with the draw being a very contentious one against Warlito Parrenas in a bout that Carmona really should have lost. Notably the Parrenas bout was for the WBO “interim” title and the winner was supposed to face Inoue, instead both men have ended up facing Inoue given that Inoue beat Parrenas at the end of last year and will now be facing Carmona.
Carmona's level seems to have been found out with his losses to Narvae and his draw with Parrenas. Although he has improved, and developed, the fact is that he's genuinely not a fighter who has anything to trouble Inoue with. As a result we suspect he will become the third successive victim to fall within 2 rounds against Inoue who will almost certainly be looking to make his US debut later this year.
It's fair to say that the lower weights have had extra attention in the west over the past year. The leading fighter for that growth has been Nicaraguan sensation Roman Gonzalez, who has really helped awaken the US market to the talent in the typically over-looked smaller weights. Whilst Gonzalez has started to become a star in the US he's not the only name on the lips of hardcore fight fans who have been excited by the lower weights in recent years. Another fighter is Naoya Inoue (8-0, 7) who has unfortunately had a year to forget with the year effectively written off following hand injuries, injuries that have slowed his meteoric rise.
Thankfully for Inoue, and for fight fans, those hand injuries have healed and on December 29th the youngster returns to make the first defense of the WBO Super Flyweight title that he won last December, when he blew away Omar Andres Narvaez. In the opposite corner will not be a patsy and instead it will be mandatory challenger Warlito Parrenas (24-6-1, 21), a heavy handed, aggressive and under-rated Filipino.
As with most of Inoue's bouts so far this is a tough test, though as we've seen through out his career, he's a fighter who is significantly better than most out there, and in fact he could well be a future claimant to the #1 spot on the mythical pound-for-pound list.
Inoue was pegged for stardom from his days as an amateur and and he has been raced to becoming a star. In just his 4th bout be claimed the Japanese Light Flyweight title, defeating current world champion Ryoichi Taguchi, a fight later he claimed the OPBF Light Flyweight title and then he claimed the WBC Light Flyweight title, stopping Adrian Hernandez. In just 8 fights has become a 2-weight world champion, one of the faces of Japanese boxing and a man who some are suggesting could be the man to finally end the long unbeaten run of Roman Gonzalez. He is, arguably, the leading figure in the next wave of Japanese superstars and is possibly the man to bring western TV cameras over to the east.
At his best Inoue is a boxer-puncher with frightening power, alarming accuracy, blurring speed, an instinctive knowledge of what shots to through and a natural ring awareness. Although he's a boxer-puncher he has shown an ability to be a brawler, an outside fighter and a pure counter puncher. Looking for something that he lacks is like looking for a needle in a haystack, however if being overly critical there are some issues with his defense, at least when he's been a bit too comfortable against some opponents, and of course the hand issues, which hopefully will not reoccur in the future.
Whilst in the ring Inoue is a sensation and one of the most natural fighters in the sport he does, of course, have a lot of pressure on his young shoulders. The 23 year old is viewed as being something special and knows that millions watch him in Japan on Fuji TV. He also knows that he is expected to perform like a star, despite spending a year out of the ring. He will also, perhaps, be worried about re-injuring the hand. The Inoue we see against Parrenas may not be the same Inoue that we saw destroy Narvaez and this is a real worry.
When it comes to Parrenas we know we're talking about a much lower profile fighter than Inoue, but one who is himself incredibly exciting. The Filipino is a monstrous puncher, and has 12 stoppages in the first 3 rounds. He's a danger man early on but also dangerous late and has shown solid punching power late into fights, although he has never scored a stoppage after the 8th round. Not only is he heavy handed but he always comes to fight and has a great engine, as he showed last time out against David Carmona, where he fought at a high pace for 12 rounds.
Whilst Parrenas is an aggressive banger here are certainly some issues with him. He has been stopped 4 times, and his chin is very questionable. He can certainly give it out, but it seems that he's not so good at taking it. Whilst it's fair to say that being stopped by Marlon Tapales and Jonathan Taconing isn't too bad he has also been stopped by Erwin Picardal and Oscar Blanquet, and was also dropped by Atsushi Kakutani, in a memorable 172 second bout. Those chin issues, especially early, could be a problem here, as is the fact he can be rather wild and wide and leaves himself open to counters, something that Inoue will take advantage of.
Whilst Parrenas has been stopped 4 times, and beaten 6 times, he is currently on an unbeaten run of 7-0-1 and has gone 12-1-1 in his last 14. Those runs have shown that he's improved. He's beaten fighters like Kakutani, Koji Itagaki, Tomoya Kaneshiro and Espinos Sabu whilst also fighting to a draw with Carmona, in what seemed to be a very unfortunate result for Parrenas. The improvement in Parrenas has been impressive but it's still a huge step up in class for the Pinoy puncher.
If Inoue is close to the fighter he was a year ago it's hard to see him losing to Parrenas, despite the danger that the Filipino brings. If however Inoue is rusty then Parrenas certainly has a chance to at least chin check the “Monster”. Our guess however is that Hideyuki Ohashi and Shingo Inoue wouldn't let Naoya fight unless they were confident he was fully healed, fully fit and had impressed in sparring. With that in mind we can't see anything but an Inoue stoppage, likely inside 5 rounds.
In boxing we tend to see a fighter “managed” to a world title whilst being “promoted” in a way that generates a lot of money for both the fighter and his team without needing to take a lot of risks. In the west this is the general idea behind the match making philosophy which has, at times, lead to under-developed challengers, prospects who have failed to reach their potential. We've seen it numerous times in the past and we will continue to see it in the future.
In some countries things are a little bit different. A prospect tipped for the top is pushed hard with the intention of shaking up the boxing world, not merely being managed to a title fight years down the line. It's this fast rising mentality which has been behind Naoya Inoue's (7-0, 6) incredibly 7 fight career. Yes he has only fought 7 times as a professional yet has already achieved more than men with multiple times as many fights as he has.
Not happy with just winning a world title in his 6th bout Inoue will attempting to shake up the boxing world again as he attempts to become a 2-weight world champion in just his 8th professional bout. Again surpassing many fighters who fight their whole career in the hope of just fighting for a world title. Not only will Inoue be hoping to become a 2-weight champion in his coming bout, on December 30th, but he will be taking on the longest reigning champion in the division, Omar Andres Narvaez (43-1-2, 23).
For those who don't know about the 21 year old Inoue we really need to ask where have you been the last couple of years? The youngster was tipped for stardom from the moment he partook in his pro-test, bashing up the then Japanese Light Flyweight champion Masayuki Kuroda. In his first bout he stopped Filipino national champion Crison Omayao, then took out Thailand's Ngaoprajan Chuwatana. After those 2 fights it was so obvious he was on the fast track to the top and in fight #4 he won the Japanese national Light Flyweight title, beating the then world ranked Ryoichi Taguchi by 10 round decision. A fight later he had added the OPBF title and announced his intention of winning a world title in very next fight.
Inoue, unlike many fighters who talk of grandeur, wasn't just talking the talk and in fight #6 he stopped Adrian Hernandez to claim the WBC Light Flyweight title. Whilst some fighters may get “cheap” stoppages this certainly wasn't one, this wasn't the referee interjecting to be part of the fight, instead Inoue had broken Hernandez and made the Mexican quit. The physical strength, power, speed and technical ability of Inoue was just too much for Hernandez, despite the fact Inoue was himself suffering from cramps due to excessive weight loss.
It was expected that Inoue would move up to 112lbs immediately after the win over Hernandez. Instead he did what champions should do and sealed his reign with a defense of the belt, stopping Thailand's Samartlek Kokietgym in the 11th round of their bout. It was the least impressive performance of Inoue's career though was still a dominant one.
Now the youngster will be skipping Flyweight to battle against Narvaez at 115lbs. A weight that his team, including father-trainer Shingo Inoue, believes is his natural fighting weight. The step up in weight class is a major one as is the step up in quality. Hernandez was a credible world champion however Narvaez is a 2-weight world champion who has ruled at both Flyweight and Super Flyweight amassing a huge number of defenses. Not only is Narvaez a real champion but he is a man who's only loss so far has come against a much bigger man in Nonito Donaire, and even Donaire failed to ever really hurt the significantly smaller Narvaez.
The reason Narvaez has gone so far in the sport is that he is very well schooled, very fit, physically strong and surprisingly fast. He's not a big puncher or the most imposing fighting in the division but he is one of the best out there. Defensively he can be as tight as anyone giving next to no target for a fighter, as shown in his bout with Donaire, whilst offensively his fast hands and careful counter-combinations can be grinding and chip away at an opponent. Worse yet for opponents is the fact that he's a southpaw, making him tricky as well as skilled, tough and fast.
For many Japanese fans this will be the first time they've gotten to see Narvaez however it's not the first time he's fought a Japanese fighter. Just last year he became the first man to stop the tough Hiroyuki Hisataka, who visited Narvaez's homeland of Argentina and was halted in 10 rounds. That was one of 3 stoppages Narvaez has in his last 4 bouts however he's really not a puncher and looking at those results in isolation do give a misleading image of the Argentinian fighter.
Aged 39 Narvaez is incredibly old for a Super Flyweight. He has been in world title fights since 2002 and has to be on the slide physically. That however wasn't seen last time out when he defeated Felipe Orucuta. The result might have been a majority decision on paper but what Pat Russell was watching is a mystery to us as it seemed a clear, yet competitive, win for the Argentinian who struggled for a few rounds before adapting and taking a clear win.
Going into this bout there are a lot of questions for both men to answer. For Narvaez we do have to wonder what his 39 year old body is capable of, whether he is travelling to Japan for a payday and how he can cope with a fast, strong and powerful youngster. On the other hand we need to wonder how Inoue copes with a man capable of frustrating him with a shell like defense, how he copes with the new weight division and how he copes with a fighter who is as good as Narvaez.
If Inoue is as good as he has looked so far, and as good as we think, we suspect he will manage to out work and out muscle the Argentinian. If Inoue isn't as sharp at Super Flyweight as he's looked in his Light Flyweight bouts, or if he lets his defense slip, as he has done at times in the past, he may be in trouble. We suspect Inoue is the real deal and will show it by using his fresh legs to keep the shorter fighter at range early on, racking up the rounds and making Narvaez move to plan B. When Narvaez falls behind we suspect he'll become more offensive and that will suit Inoue who would likely love a tear up with Narvaez believing himself to be the stronger and more powerful fighter.
We think if Inoue gets the better of the action up close Narvaez will then turn to plan C, one based on survival and allow Inoue to take the win without running a risk of being stopped by the Japanese youngster.
Our guess on the result, Inoue UD12. And with that win he'd have to be the front runner for the 2014 Fighter of the Year.
(Image courtesy of http://www.ohashi-gym.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.