The Minimumweight division has been slowly creating a bit of buzz in the last few years. Typically the division has been chronically over-looked but thanks to action fighters like Roman Gonzalez, Katsunari Takayama and Akira Yaegashi we've slowly seen a snowball of interest for the men at 105lbs. That interesting is arguably at it's highest now with several notable champions, and very highly regarded contenders. Champions like Wanehng Menayothin and Hiroto Kyoguchi have certainly gained some for various reasons whilst Knockout CP Freshmart (17-0, 7) has probably the best name in the sport. Contenders like the hard hitting Tsubasa Koura or the amazingly skilled Mark Anthony Barriga add real depth to a division which has often only hand a handful of quality fighters.
This coming weekend the aforementioned Knockout CP Freshmart returns to the ring to defend his WBA Minimumweight title against WBA interim champion Xiong Zhao Zhong (27-7, 14), who was the first ever Chinese male world champion. The bout will be held in Qingdao China and see Knockout fighting outside of Thailand for the first time as a professional boxer.
The unbeaten champion got a lot of attention early in his career due to his memorable ring name, choosing to fight under the “Knokcout” moniker rather than his birth name of Thammanoon Niyomtrong. The former Muay Thai fighter made an immediate impact in professional boxing by claiming a WBC Youth title on debut, back in 2012. He then rose quickly through the ranks before claiming the WBA “interim” Minimumweight title in 2014, when he controversially defeated Carlos Buitrago. In 2016 he unified the interim title with the regular title, by defeating Byron Rojas in a competitive, but less than fantastic bout.
During his reign as the WBA interim, and regular, champion Knockout's reign has really been a mixed bag. He has scored solid wins over Buitrago, dominating a rematch between the two, Rey Loreto and Shin Ono, but also scored some really weak defenses against the likes of Muhammad Rachman, who was 43 at the time and Go Odaira. In the ring he is technically solid, and is improving pretty much with every fight. He's not the quickest, or the biggest punching or even the most energetic, but he's a very good all-rounder, arguably the best all rounder at 105lbs right now and is hard man to look impressive against.
At 35 years old Zhong is one of the division's senior citizens. He debuted back in 2006 and had a pretty slow start to his career, with China not really even being a blip on the boxing map back in 2006. Despite the low key start he did manager to fight for the WBC Flyweight title in 2009, dropping Daisuke Naito before coming up short in a messy bout in Japan.
In 2012 Zhong got his second shot at a world title, and defeated Javier Martinez Resendiz to claim the previously vacant WBC Minimumweight title, creating history by becoming China's first male world champion. He would defend the title twice, scoring a very notable win over Denver Cuello in his first defense, but was surprisingly dethroned in 2014 by Oswaldo Novoa, who stopped Zhong in 5 rounds. Since Zhong lost the WBC title he has had mixed fortunes, going 5-2 though claimed WBA interim title last time out with a very lucky win over Panya Pradbsri, AKA Petchmanee Kokietgym.
At his best Zhong was an awkward, bull like fighter. He lacked the nuances of a real world class fighter, but was tough, strong and hit surprisingly hard. His lack of technical ability has held him back, and whilst he has dropped fighters like Naito and Hekkie Budler the damage has come from his bull like strength and and wild, wide and unorthodox shots, rather than technically accurate boxing skills.
Given the skills and accuracy of Knockout, as well as his edge in youth and speed, we can't see anything but a win for the Thai. If he can stop Zhong it would be impressive, but we're expecting a decision for the Thai, who will dominate in such a way that the judges can't possibly give it to the local.
Interestingly the winner of this will be expected to face off with Byron Rojas, who's team had pushed to get a bout with Knockout before this bout was signed. That would likely lead to a rematch between Knockout and Rojas.
The Minimumweight division may have been widely ignored by the casual fans through it's short history but it's a division which has given us a lot of great fights in recent years. Those fights have including unification wars, such as the Kazuto Ioka/Akira Yaegashi fight from back in 2012, or this year's scintillating war between Katsunari Takayama and Francisco Rodriguez Jr, as well as single-title slug fests like Yaegashi's war with Pornnsawan Porpramook. Sadly whilst the division is one of the very best for fans who enjoy a great fight it's also been a disappointing year for Asian fighters with 3 Asian's losing Minimumweight world titles already this year.
One of those 3 men was China's Xiong Zhao Zhong (24-5-1, 14) who had his WBC title taken in shocking fashion when he met Oswaldo Novoa and was dominated by the Mexican under-dog. Whilst it's fair to say we all under-rated Novoa, who was a relative unknown, it was still an huge upset and one of the most shocking results of the year, especially given that the bout was fought in Zhong's native China.
Zhong went into that bout as the first and only Chinese world champion. This coming weekend Zhong will attempt to become China's first 2-time world champion as he attempts to claim the WBA title from the highly regarded South African speedster Hekkie Budler (26-1, 9), a man looking for back-to-back wins against Asian fighters following his stoppage victory last time out against Pigmy Kokietgym, and in fact he'll be hunting his 4th successive stoppage.
Although a divisive fighter Zhong is someone we respect even if we don't consider ourselves fans of his. He is the figure head of Chinese boxing in the mainland and although he's over-shadowed by Zou Shiming's fights in Macau Zhong has achieved more as a professional than any other Chinese fighter. He's done that not through skill and ability but sheer tenacity, bravery, natural strength and toughness, both mentally and physically.
Zhong is one of the most diminutive professional boxers in the sport right now and even for a Minimumweight he's short. Despite his lack of height he is built like a tank and looks strong, powerful and muscular for a guy fighting in the sports lowest weight class. It's that power and toughness that has seen him achieve what he has in his career. Strangely for a fighter built like he is however Zhong isn't a big puncher and instead needs to grind opponents for stoppages. Against lower tier fighters that works perfect, as shown in his some what embarrassing win over Thailand's Lookrak Kiatmungmee. Against the better fighters that he has faced however he has struggled to really impose himself due to a lack of technical ability and a relative lack of speed compared to his fellow Minimumweights. And although some may point out that he holds a win over the exceptional Denver Cuello, those people do need to note that that came more from Cuello's health issues as opposed to Zhong's actual boxing ability.
If we accept that Zhong is like a tank, with power and rugged toughness then Budler is like the opposite. He's tough like Zhong but trades off on his speed as opposed to power. Budler is quick, sharp and highly skilled. He's a fighter who will land 2 or 3 punches whilst an opponent is thinking about their next move and then he'll get out of range before an opponent can reply. It's his speed, both with feet and hands, that makes Budler such a brilliant fighter in the division and one of the men that could become a long reigning champion at the weight.
What Budler has done over the years is improve and develop. Watching him from 2010 and 2011 he looked like a man who was going to struggle to advance. It was during that time the Budler suffered his sole loss, a split decision to fellow South African Gideon Buthelezi, and struggled with the likes of Juanito Rubillar and Evaristo Primero, since then though he has improved drastically and become his own fighter, as shown in his wins over the likes of Florante Condes and Nkosinathi Joyi.
Whilst sometimes the limited but stronger fighter can over-come the quicker and more skilled fighter those bouts are rare and we suspect that Budler will be too quick, too smart and too good for Zhong. The Chinese fighter is likely to be tough and game throughout but unlikely to actually be competitive in terms of winning rounds. He'll make Budler work in stages but not enough to really mount a serious challenger in a bout that will help enhance the standing of the South African fighter.
If he wins here wouldn't say Budler was the de facto #1 in the division but it looks to be between him and Francisco Rodriguez Jr and a bout between those two would, in our eyes, be for the #1 position. Hopefully 2015 will bring us a contest like that or we'll get the chance to see Katsunari Takayama share the ring with one of them with the Japanese fighter certainly still a proven top tier fighter in the division.
(Image courtesy of Zovi.cn)
One fighter, win or lose, who seems to have much of the boxing public against him is WBC Minimumweight champion Xiong Zhao Zhong (22-4-1, 12). Zhong, China's first ever world champion, appears completely unable to do anything right in the eyes of critical fans who seem to blame him for anything and everything.
When he first got his title fight, back in November 2012, Zhong had been given preferential treatment by the WBC. There's no arguing that and theres also no arguing that Filipino Denver Cuello took a payment to step aside so that China could have their first world champion. Cuello, who took the step aside payment, then got a fight with Zhong himself and lost that by majority decision in a bout that we felt Zhong had clearly on top in.
Zhong, despite fighting and beating Cuello, was denigrated due to the fact Cuello had injured his shoulder. It was brave from Cuello but Zhong had done what was decent and battled the top contender.
Unfortunately for Zhong he was again chastised when the Chinese government refused to allow him to fight Omari Kimweri. Zhong, wanting to meet TV commitments and expectations of fans, was forced to take on a much less testing Thai who took the fight late. It wasn't a "world level fight" but Zhong was stuck between letting down down his fans in China or taking an easy defense. Fans worldwide can criticise but it was the first time a Chinese champion had ever defended a world title at China and that alone meant a lot.
Zhong will again be trying to win fans over as he takes on Mexico's Oswaldo Novoa (12-4-1, 7), the WBC #2 ranked and IBF #7 ranked challenger.
Although somewhat unknown Novoa is well regarded with not just the WBC and IBF decrying him as world class but also Boxrec (where he is #7 ranked). These rankings haven't come from any particular victory but more the series of 5 straight, 3 by KO, victories that Novoa has strung together over the last 18 months or so. These victories, which included a decision over one-time interim title challenger Jose Alfredo Zuniga and a stoppage over former Zhong foe Javier Martinez Resendiz have both really worked in his favour.
Interestingly for a man with 4 losses on his record Novoa has actually faced decent competition and two of those who have beaten him, Carlos Velarde and Jesus Silvestre, have gone on to fight for the WBA version of the world title whilst another who has beaten him, Jose Argumedo, has twice been beaten by Novoa.
What we have with Novoa is a very aggressive puncher. He goes to the ring to fight and doesn't seem to mind what hand he hits you with. It's not really pretty but it does tend to be exciting and is the sort of thing that any fight fan loves. A two handed offensive machine with a little bit of craziness thrown in for good measure. It's this aggressiveness that has seen hm record so many stoppages and keep even his losses close. On the flipside however he does leave himself open and does seem to regularly over-commit to shots.
Although Novoa is a big puncher he doesn't look as physically strong as Zhong who is boxing's version of a tank. Everything about Zhong says he's a hard man. He just looks tough, as if he were carved out of concrete and then taught to fight. Despite looking so big and strong he's not actually a big puncher, though he does tend to be able to hurt opponents with his heavy shots esepcially to the body as he showed last time out. It's fair to say he's not a world class puncher but his shots are all thrown with the intention of making an opponent not ant to take another one.
With Novoa being such an openly aggressive fighter this has the markings of a really great fight. Novoa will come forward with his aggression, Zhong will come forward relying on his strength and as a result we should see two men stand toe-to-toe freely swinging at each other in the hope of ending the other mans chances. Unfortunately for that potential excitement we also have the risk of a headclash calling an early early conclusion to the bout and both men have had headclashes in the recent bouts.
As well as the potential excitement via a clash of styles we also have excitement in the fact both men have been down. This one could end at any time and more over it could end in spectacular fashion. If you like a fight we really reccomend tuning in to this one.
As for a prediction we favour Zhong. The Chinese fighter might not be everyone's cup of tea though he's a genuine world level fighter and he's proven to be much better than people give him credit for, we think we'll see a further improved version of Zhong managing to defeat a tiring Novoa in what will be a real humdinger.
Earlier this week we, and many others, expected WBC Minimumweight champion Xiong Zhao Zhong (21-4-1, 11) to face Australian based Omari Kimweri.
Unfortunately however Kimweri has been unable to fight in that contest after passport issues saw him being sent back to Australia, just days before the fight.
Zhong, China's first ever boxing world champion, may have thought he would be denied of a chance to defend his title in front of his people. Thankfully however Zhong's promoters managed to save the day as they called around and found the champion an opponent.
Unfortunately the opponent has turned out to be nothing special as Thailand's Lookrak Kiatmungmee (7-4, 4) has become the man to fill in the gap. With the late notice however it was never going to be a contest as intriguing as the Zhong/Kimweri contest would have been.
Zhong is one of the sports most over-looked fighters. For some he's little more than a paper champion though for others, those who have seen him, he's a tough and bullish fighter who will break opponents with his strength, style and mental toughness.
As Zhong showed in his first title defense, a decision over the highly regarded Denver Cuello, he's not someone who could be described as a sweet scientist. He is however someone who sums up Asian boxing, tough gutsy and always in the ring to win.
In Kiatmungmee it's obvious that Zhong has a "patsy". Kimweri did look like a credible opponent but the Thai replacement is literally someone who picked up the phone and said yes.
Kiatmungmee hasn't fought in almost two years, incidentally following a decision loss to Kimweri. Not only has he been inactive but he also suffered 4 losses in his last 5 bouts and you actually need to go back to 2006 for his last noteworthy victory.
Yes this is a mismatch, though with the conditions surrounding it, it's a mismatch that saved the show and has allowed Zhong to make the first ever world title defense in China. Something worth considering before you rip the fight a new one.
Courtesy of boxrec.com
Last November Chinese fighter Xiong Zhao Zhong (20-4-1, 11) made history in becoming the first Chinese man to claim a boxing world title.
To many Zhong's victory over Javier Martinez Resendiz for the WBC title was a case of Zhong being given an undeserved opportunity to create history. To others however it was a chance for boxing to awaken a sleeping giant in the potentially huge Chinese boxing market.
The only thing that was obvious with Zhong's victory over Resendiz was that Zhong would have to face stiffer competition if he was wanting to hold the title for long. The WBC, who had hepeld Zhong secure his place in history had already had a final eliminator and so Zhong's first challenger was already arranged and was certainly a tougher opponent than Resendiz.
Courtesy of Boxrec.com
Having been paid step-aside money following his title eliminator victory way back in 2011, Filipino Denver Cuello (33-4-6, 21) has finally gotten the fight he deserves.
Known as "Mr Excitement" Cuello has been one of the most fun to watch young Filipino's in the boxing world and also one of the top Minimumweights over the past few years.
Going in to the bout there is a lot of pressure on both men. Not only will it be Zhong's first defense of a world title (the first, by any man from China) but will also be Cuello's first chance, at long last, to become a world champion.
Although the pressure on both men is huge it's likely to be more so on Zhong who holds his nations hopes on his shoulders despite the fact that this bout will be fought on neutral turf in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
The 30 year old Zhong, who has been professional since 2006, first made his mark on the boxing world in 2009 when he challenged Daisuke Naito for the WBC Flyweight title. Although Zhong put up a good fight and dropped Naito he failed to do enough to claim the decision and instead had to go back home from Japan belt less.
Since the loss to Naito, Zhong has improved, dropped down in weight and claimed a world title though is still an unproven fighter and not a fighter many would feel is deserving of a world title belt.
Despite his improvements from the Naito fight Zhong is still technically limited though he looks to be a strong fighter (likely the case with the fact he has previously fought at Flyweight) he has very solid stamina (from training at Kumming). It's his technical limitations however that are likely to be key and he can be caught clean pretty easily (Resendiz managed to tag him several times), against a top fighter being caught can mean good night.
The 26 year old challenger, has been a professional since 2004 and although he started his professional career 3-2-4 he has become one of the top Minimumweights in the world on merit.
Cuello, known for his hard punching and aggressive style has scored notable wins in the past few years including stoppages of former world champion Muhammad Rachman, former world title contenders Omar Soto and Takashi Kunishige and the highly ranked Ganigan Lopez.
With seriously hurtful power, devastating body shots and an attacking mindset Cuello is a nightmare to fight. He's a fighter who knows how to hurt opponents with wicked uppercuts and hooks and refuses to be intimidated in the ring. He's technically a bit crude but so powerful, tough and strong that many opponents crumble either under his power or under his pressure.
The big question going in to this bout is whether or not Zhong will manage to get the respect of Cuello. If he can't then this will be a painful night for the Chinese fighter will will be forced to take hurtful shots upstairs and downstairs from a very talented and confident fighter. If Zhong can get Cuello's respect then we may well have a very competitive contest on our hands, unfortunately for Zhong it's not often we see Cuello respecting his opponents too much.
If asked to pick it's hard to go against Cuello. Sure the Filipino has looked less than stellar in his last 2 outings (a 10 round majority decision over Takashi Kunishige and a 10 round unanimous decision over Ivan Meneses) but he has only suffered 1 defeat in 7 years (and that was a disqualification in Mexico in a bout he seemed to be winning).
Note-Despite the spelling we've used through out the preview, the correct spelling of the Chinese fighter's name is actually Xiong Chao Zhong (as mentioned in an article on gokumming.com from 2012).
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.