This coming Friday we'll be able to see several world title fights from the US, one of which will see unbeaten Filipino Genesis Servania (29-0, 12) challenge WBO Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19). For Servania, a Filipino based in Japan, this will be his maiden world title fight whilst Valdez will be seeking his third defence, following wins over Hiroshige Osawa and Miguel Marriaga.
Of the two men it's the talented and heavy handed Mexican who is expected to shine. He has long been considered one of the top Mexican fighters and, before turning professional in 2012, he had been a genuine amateur standout. In the unpaid ranks Valdez had twice competed at the Olgmpics, had won gold at the 2008 AIBA Youth World Championships, Silver at the Pan Am games in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and a Bronze at the 2009 World Amateur Championships.
So impressive was Valdez's amateur career that when he turned professional, soon after the 2012 London Olympics, people were already talking about him like a nailed on world champion. Like so many top prospects in the West however his journey to the top wasn't particularly rushed. Instead it was a slow build as he gradually stepped up his competition, beating Jose Ramirez in his 15th bout, Christ Avalos in his 17th and Evgeny Gradovch in his 19th. Finally his world title shot came in his 20th bout, in which he stopped Matias Carlos Adrian Rueda for the then vacant title.
Valdez's rise to the title had been pretty straight forward, and that was the case in his first defense, a one sided beat down of Japan's Osawa, who was tough but out classed and eventually stopped in round 7. It wasn't until his most recent defense, a 12 round war with Miguel Marriaga, that chinks were first seen in Valdez. The Mexican showed great toughness and will to win, but was hurt several times, looked defensively open and struggled to connect with his frightening power. He still won, but for the first time he was made to look human.
In the ring Valdez is a fast handed, technically well schooled boxer puncher. Defensively there is flaws, and questions do continue to be asked about his stamina and whether or not he can be versatile enough to over-come fighters who can take his power. Whilst he did defeat Marriaga, that bout left more questions than answers.
Whilst every fight fan has likely heard of, or seen, Valdez it's fair to say far, far, fewer have seen Servania. In fact many of those who have seen the Filipino would probably have only seen one fight of his, his contest with Konosuke Tomiyama which took place in 2013 in Macau as part of Top Rank's Macau experiment. That bout was a thriller, with Servania being dropped twice in the opening round, and dropping Tomiyama twice before claiming a 9th round split technical decision. Despite the drama in that fight Servania is actually a fighter who typically fights safely and doesn't engage in wars.
In the ring Servania is a technically solid fighter, who has slowly but surely racked up notable wins, which have often gone under-the-radar. Those wins have included victories over the likes of Genaro Garcia, Angky Angkotta, the aforementioned Tomiyama, Rafael Concepcion, Alexander Munoz and Jose Cabrera. Those wins won't resonate with too many fans, but they are decent wins over decent names, even though they were mostly on the slide. They have shown that Servania is a solid boxer-mover, he hits harder than his record suggests and he has rarely lost a round during his 29 bout career. It's also worth noting that despite being a bit of a veteran he is only 26 years old, with almost 9 years of experience under his belt.
Although experienced and talented this is a huge step up for Servania, and he would need to score one of the biggest upsets of 2017 to over-come Valdez. We know Servania is talented, but we can't see him having the tools needed to really test the champion. Servania should be able to have some moments, but we suspect he'll end up being stopped in the middle rounds by the more powerful Valdez.
This coming weekend is a packed one with 4 world title bouts taking place on the same show in Las Vegas. Arguably the most perplexing of those sees little known Japanese fighter Hiroshige Osawa (30-3-4, 19) face fast rising Mexican star Oscar Valdez (20-0, 18), who will be making his first defense of the WBO Featherweight title. Notably Osawa enters the bout as the #1 ranked contender to Valdez, but really is a very unknown fighter in a division that boasts a number of bigger, more established and more notable names.
As mentioned Valdez is a rising star making his first defense and looking to establish himself as one of the very best Featherweights on the planet. Out of the ring he has the natural charisma of a star, he speaks both Spanish and English, and is a really good looking kid. In the ring he's a monster, an absolute monster who combines excellent skills, with speed, a high boxing IQ, really good composure, oh and frightening power.
With a 90% KO rate Valdez's power cannot be over-stated. He's a frightening puncher. However he's not just a puncher, much like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Shinsuke Yamanaka there is much more to to Valdez than just his punching power. He was an excellent amateur and is a 2-time Olympian, a world Youth amateur champion and World Amateur Championship's bronze medal winner, losing in the final to the amazing Vasyl Lomachenko. That amateur pedigree explains the skills and the composure but the power and charisma are really what will help make him a star, and his style is explosive, eye catching and exciting.
There are still some things that Valdez needs to prove, such as his stamina which is untested though he has been 10 rounds once, and he has got a question mark over his chin with a knockdown against him a few fights back, albeit a flash knockdown. There is also a question mark about whether he enjoys actually forcing a fight, with Valdez looking a better counter puncher than a front foot fighter, and a fighter could possibly frustrate him into making mistake by being incredibly patient rather than giving him chances and openings.
Whilst the 25 year old Valdez is a rising star his opponent really is a bit of an unknown, even towards some Japanese fans, and at 31 years old Osawa is what will likely be his only chance at making a name for himself. We know it's odd to describe Osawa as an unknown, especially given that he's a former OPBF champions and a former WBO Asia Pacific “interim” champion, but he really is an unknown to many fans, including a lot in Japan. In fact some fans may actually know him best for the fact he suffered a year long suspension for taking part in a bout that the JBC were lied to.
Out of the ring Osawa is an amazing guy, he's done a lot with a foster care home and has regularly donated money to charities based on disabilities. That out of the ring activity has seen him earn the “Caregiver boxer” moniker, one of many that he has, and he does seem like the sort of fighter who really is a brilliant person on a humanitarian level. Sadly in the ring he's nothing special, and that's not an insult just the truth. Through his 37 bout career his most notable wins are a decision wins over Jonel Alibo and Eddy Comaro along with stoppage wins against Shota Yamaguchi, Kosuke Saka and Naoki Matsudam and whilst we love Kosuke Saka he shouldn't be a top win for a #1 contender.
In the ring Osawa is a decent boxer, with solid but unspectacular skills, limited power, a lack of speed and some worrying inaccuracy with his shots. It appears he's grown into a bit of power, with his last 8 bouts ending in stoppage wins, and he's actually stopped 10 of his last 11, but they have generally been against low level competition. One thing that is perhaps worthy of not is that Osawa has only been stopped once, and that was way back in 2005 and at Lightweight, when Daiki Koide beat him in 6 rounds.
Valdez will come in to this as the clear favourite, as he should do, and it's hard to see how he'll be upset. Osawa doesn't have the skills to match him or the power to really be given a “puncher's chance”. However Osawa won't have travelled to just roll over, Japanese fighters might have a reputation for losing away from home but they rarely just fall over and we suspect to see Osawa to go down swinging, likely in in the middle rounds, after perhaps frustrating Valdez for a few rounds before being stopped.
(Image courtesy of http://hiroshige0519.com)
All too often in boxing we look at the records of fighters and base our opinions on those rather than the abilities or competition of those fighters involved. Sometimes it turns out to be a fair way to judge fighters ahead of a bout, especially when they have been competing at a similar level. Often however the numbers turn out not to be relatively of someones ability and in fact we often see that the more padded a record the less capable a fighter really is.
The debate about "quality versus quality" when it comes to experience is something that we know fans are split over with the western system often favour quantity of bouts over quality of bouts. Every so often however someone bucks the trend and is fast tracked. One such fighter is current WBO Featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (2-1, 1) who really is one of the most sensational fighters in the sport today. On paper Lomachenko's record is a stark contrast to his upcoming challenger, Thailand's Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (52-1, 33), and if we judged fights just from records this would be a mismatch in favour of the Thai. In reality however the men are in completely different leagues with Lomachenko being a truly elite talent whilst Chonlatarn is little more than a continental level fighter with a heavily boosted record.
For those who have followed Lomachenko over the years you will be fully aware that he has some of the most impressive amateur credentials in history, in fact some have described him as the greatest amateur boxer not just of his era but of all time. That assessment is fair and also exposes the idea that he is a "novice". As an amateur he fought almost 400 contests whilst picking up 2 Olympic gold medals, 3 world amateur championship gold medals, and a silver, and was among the most celebrated amateurs in history.
As a professional Lomachenko maintained the same attitude as he had when he was a amateur. He wants to fight the best, fight in and fight out. And the best thing about it is he has the self belief to do just that and seems unwilling to just pad his professional ledger with mismatches and pointless wins that serve little to no purpose. Of course this comes with a serious risk, as he saw in his second bout when he was narrowly out pointed by Orlando Salido in a WBO Featherweight title fight that saw Salido fail weight and land numerous low blows, however it comes with great reward as seen when he tied a world record for fewest fights to win a world title in his third bout, tying the long standing record of Thailand's Saensak Muangsurin.
Although Lomachenko has maintained much of his amateur style he always seemed to have a very professional looking amateur style. He fought behind a high guard, moving in and out swiftly, landing sharp and accurate shots and making his opponent miss. There hasn't been a huge amount of transitioning but thee hasn't needed to be and like the great Muay Thai guys who moved from Muay Thai to boxing with great success he's managed to use what he had practiced prior to becoming a professional boxer.
Despite only having fought thrice as a professional Lomachenko's opponents had a combined record of 99 wins, 15 losses, 2 draws and 1 no contest. That is unheard of though shows his belief and ability.
Whilst Lomachenko has been fast tracked in the extreme Chonlatarn has fought on the now typical Thai trajectory towards a world title. The Thai has been a pro since 2003 and has fought regularly though often against over-matched and under-skilled foes. With around 5 fights a year he has been very active by today's standards though only a handful of those bouts have been notable with the first of those being a 2006 encounter with former world champion Yoddamrong Sithyodthong. Sadly those notable bouts have been few and far between with 2 of them coming against Yoddamrong and a third, his only world title bout so far, against Chris John.
It was against John that we saw Chonlatarn step up to real world level for the first time and it was also when we saw his record, which was then 44-0 (27), wasn't indicative of his talent. The Thai showed the typical gameness and desire of most Thai fighters but he showed a lack of development, skills that were very under-whelming for such a "veteran" and highly questionable stamina as he was out worked and out boxed by the then 33 year old John. Aged 27 when he fought John we has expected so much more from the Thai and were left feeling very under-whelmed in a bout between two long unbeaten streaks.
Since the loss to John in 2012 we've seen the Thai continue on a similar career path to the one he was one prior to the John fight. He went back to the Thai scene packing up wins, 7 of them, against limited and over-matched foes whilst claimign regional titles in the form of the WBO Asia Pacific and PABA Featherweight belts. Those belts, which are often won by Thai's with incredibly long records, are geared towards gaining world rankings and playing the political games that the world bodies love to see fighters play. Unfortunately they also lead to mismatches, both on the "coming up stage" and in the eventual world title bout.
Going into this bout, a mandatory for Lomachenko, we can't see anything but an easy win for the very developed and amazingly talented champion who we suspect will give Chonlatarn a real boxing lesson before closing the show against a tired challenger in the second half of the contest. Essentially it is mandatory but will appear to be a showcase for the Ukrainian who will be looking for unification bouts in 2015. It may seem strange but we really suspect that Lomachenko has rushed his mandatory to get the fight out of the way and open the door to mega fights in 2015 without any other commitments for the year.
(Image courtesy of our friends at Thairec.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.