It's taken less than 3 weeks for boxing to throw us the first curve ball of the year, with the announcement of an IBF Super Bantamweight title bout pitting unbeaten champion TJ Doheny (20-0, 14) against little known Japanese challenger Ryohei Takahashi (15-3-1, 6) [高橋竜平] on January 18th. The bout was put together on short notice, with Takahashi's team struggling to get him a visa on short notice for a bout he simply couldn't turn down. As we write this, it's still unclear if a visa has been granted, things are being cut that fine!
So, let's just accept a visa has been given and that the bout is on, lets now look into the bout, and what we're going to be seeing for Doheny's DAZN debut, and his first bout under Eddie Hearn.
The unbeaten 32 year old champion won the title last year, travelling to Tokyo and dethroning Ryosuke Iwasa. That bout, shown in Japan and the US, was supposed to set the winner up for a bout with the then WBO champion Isaac Dogboe. Instead of facing Dogboe in a unification bout the Australian based Irish man saw had to recover from serious facial injuries and in December Dogboe was himself dethroned. That seemed to leave Doheny with plenty of options on the table, including potential Japanese returns for some of their big names like Shingo Wake. Instead, however, he signed with Eddie Hearn, and that deal was announced on January 8th with his first bout under Hearn announced for just 10 days later.
Dubbed "The Power" Doheny is actually not an out and out puncher. He can bang, and he certainly does have power, but as he showed against Iwasa he's a talented mover, a sharp puncher, an intelligent fighter and not someone who look to just bang with a banger. He made Iwasa look slow and clumsy by stopping "Eagle Eye" from setting his feet, and for the most part out worked and out manoeuvered the Japanese fighter. Other than the win over Iwasa Doheny's record is a bit thin, with his best wins coming against the likes of Mike Oliver, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Marco Demecillo and Mike Tawatchai. That however isn't a sign that he's a bad fighter, just one who hasn't been able to really prove what he can do, often enough.
As mentioned Takahashi is a little known fighter, and if you don't follow the Asian or Oceanic scene you almost certainly won't have seen him at all. Almost all of his bouts have been in his native Japan, and most haven't been televised. His early career wasn't great, losing his debut in 96 seconds to Shogo Sumitomo in December 2012, before fighting to a draw with Matcha Nakagawa in his second bout. It wasn't until January 2014 that he scored his first win, but he really came of age during that year and went on to win the All Japan Bantamweight Rookie of the Year whilst advancing his record to 5-1-1. In 2015 he notched 3 more wins before leaving Japan for the first time and losing a wide decision to a then 5-0 Andrew Moloney, then a prospect but now a leading Super Flyweight contender. Since that loss Takahashi has gone 8-1 with notable domestic wins over Matcha Nakagawa, Kazuki Tanaka and Shingo Kusano as well as a big win over Thailand's Mike Tawatchai in Thailand.
Takahashi is an aggressive fighter, he looks to set a high work rate and fights like someone who is confident in himself. That confidence has grown in the last few years, really booming since he stopped the then touted Kazuki Tanaka back in May 2017, with what was sheer determination and pressure. That was a tactic he used well against Mike Tawatchai as well, to take a clear decision in Thailand. Sadly however Takahashi is defensively open, and in his bout against Shingo Kusano he was being caught bu southpaw left hands time and time again, looking like he really wasn't sure how to fight a southpaw, though had the energy and desire to take the narrow decision. That is the bout that should worry those picking the upset. Even against orthodox fighter Takahashi's defense doesn't look the best, but against southpaws he really is open.
Although we would suggest Doheny would win anyway Takahashi also to issues with his visa, the late notice and the time zone change. Any one of those issues would be a problem, but all 2 really do show the card is stacked against him, we don't blame Doheny for that but do wonder if Eddie Hearn has had problems putting together an attractive card due to over stretching his resources and time. He's got a lot on his plate right now and giving fighters like Takahashi the opportunity of a life time on short notice might work, but it's a reputation he won't want to build.
As a prediction we suspect Doheny's speed, power and southpaw stance will pick apart a game challenger and Takahashi, whilst brave, will be stopped in the middle rounds by the champion, who is looking to unify with WBA champion Daniel Roman later in the year.
(Image courtesy of Yokohama Hikari)
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!
The Light Flyweight division has long been one of the best in the sport and it's really red hot with so much world class talent. To end the year we get the chance to see two truly world class fighters face off in a mouth watering clash in Macau. In one corner we'll have WBA "super" champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10) and in the other we'll have former IBF Minmumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8). Stylistcally the two men are massively different but together they should gel for a FOTY contender and make for something very special.
South African fighter Budler is a grizzled veteran, who is 30 years old and turned professional way back in 2007. His career was over-looked early on by the international boxing world despite early career fights in Canada and the USA, but he would impress in later years when he won the WBA Minimumweight title. As the champion at 105lbs Budler would go on to shine in bouts held in Monaco, raising his profile dramatically, before boosting his reputation at home with a win over Simpiwe Koncko. Sadly his reign ended in 2016, losing to Byron Rojas, before he moved up in weight. At Light Flyweight he has gone 3-1, losing in a nail biter in 2017 to Milan Melindo before beating Ryoichi Taguchi this past May in another brilliant 12 round bout.
Budler is technically a flawed fighter but he has an amazing engine, fighting at a high tempo through 12 rounds, he throws from unorthodox angles, and refuses to back off. Although not powerful his work rate is a nightmare and he's very hard to get respect from, even if he's not iron chinned. In fact if we were to sum him up it would be "iron willed buzzsaw", and we genuinely love watching him.
Unbeaten Japanese fighter Kyoguchi was put on the fast lane when he debuted in 2016 and he raced away to his first world title just 15 months after making his professional debut. After 2 defenses of the IBF Minimumweight title he decided to move up in weight, and now campaigns at Light Flyweight, which should suit his growing body better than the 105lbs weight class. At Minimumweight he was an aggressive bully, who used his physicality and his heavy hands to great effect, and combined those with under-rated speed and brilliant combination punching, especially on the inside.
Interestingly Kyoguchi is stablemates with Ryoichi Taguchi, the man that Budler beat for the WBA "Super" Light Flyweight title. That bout will serve as an advantage for Kyoguchi, who will have been given a scouting report from his Watanabe Gym stablemate, who will be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Budler. What we've seen of both men makes us expect something really exciting and action packed, and Kyoguchi really holds the advantage on the inside, with very under-rated body punching, especially his left hook to the mid-section. We suspect that punch will be the key, and that he'll find a home for it early on, and rely on it to slow down and break up the South African.
Budler has never been stopped before, he is a top fighter at 108lbs and he is tough. We do however think that Kyoguchi is a special fighter, in a similar mould to Roman Gonzalez, and will move through the weights with relative ease whilst getting stronger. We suspect that Budler start well here before being broken down and maybe even stopped in the later rounds as Kyoguchi announces himself on a new division in style.
In 2018 we've seen the Flyweight division go through some huge changes, and not a single fighter who began the year a world champion is actually still a champion. In fact the longest reigning champion in the division is Artem Dalakian, and his WBA reign only began in February. To end the year the division may have one more sting in the tail, as IBF champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) makes his first defense, of his second reign, and goes up against unheralded Japanese challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9).
The champion is a true veteran of the sport. He turned professional in 2000, as an 18 year old, and got his first big break in 2008, winning an IBF eliminator. Unfortunately he would come up short in his first world title fight, losing by TKO due to cute to Nonito Donaire in Las Vegas, but gave Donaire one of his toughest bouts at the time. Despite losing to Donaire we did see Mthalane claim the title a year later, beating Julio Cesar Miranda for the vacant title. As the champion he would make 4 defenses over 3 years, stopping Zolani Tete, Johnriel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though politics would play a part in hins reign, not only leading to inactivity but also eventually leading to Mthalane vacating, rather than facing Amnat Ruenroeng for a very paltry purse.
Despite vacating the belt Mthalane remained a leading Flyweight contender, and would get a chance to recapture the belt this past July, a chance he made the most of by beating Korean based Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem by unanimous decision in Malaysia.
At the age of 36 is ancient for a Flyweight, and with 38 bouts on his record is certainly a fighter who has had a hard career. He has real wars with the likes of Donaire, Nunez, Waseem and Jether Oliva, who gave Mthalane a horribly swollen eye. Despite being old Mthalane is a technical master in the ring, with an excellent boxing IQ, an aggressive style, which can be either that of a pressure fighter or an aggressive counter puncher, and he is a surprisingly quick an powerful fighter. Defensively he's sound, though there are some question marks about his stamina, and he was running on empty in the later rounds against Waseem.
Whilst the champion has long been under-the-radar, hard core fans have known about him for around a decade. The challenger on the other hand is a real unknown for those who don't follow the Asian scene, and more specifically the Japanese scene. He made his first mark on the sport in 2015, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Flyweight and would lose his first title bout the following year, losing in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout to future world champion Sho Kimura. Thankfully for Sakamoto he would win that regional title the following year, stopping Kwanthai Sithmorseng, and defend it once, stopping Pigmy Kokietgym. Sadly those are the only 2 wins of major note on his record, and his loss to Kimura came at a time when no one really knew who Kimura was, and was the win that put Kimura on the road for his break out win against Zou Shiming in 2017.
Although Sakamoto hasn't had much TV exposure, aside from his Rookie of the Year stuff, he has got plenty of footage out there on boxingraise. That footage shows a smart fighter, a fighter who thinks about what he's doing, and boxing with his brain. Sadly though it shows a fighter with not exceptional natural talent. He's a a good, steady, boxer, but not a quick one or a monstrous puncher. He's a fighter who appears to have been more about hard work, dedication and gradual development, something that was clear between the loss to Kimura and his wins against the notable Thai's.
With a loss to Kimura it's fair to say that Sakamoto has lost the biggest bout of his career. This bout is bigger though and he will be the clear under-dog. He's up against the most technically proficient fighter he has ever faced, and a man who has a wealth of experience at world level. Sakamoto's team have been developing a game plan for Mthalane for a while, and it's almost certainly one based around making the most of Mthalane's advanced age. Sadly though the Japanese fighter is likely to find himself up against it here.
We would love to see Sakamoto win, and the potential rematch with Kimura or a unification bout with Kosei Tanaka, though the truth is that he is the huge under-dog here. We suspect his lack of experience at this level will be a major problem. We suspect Sakamoto will have moments, but sadly will come up short to the pressure and accuracy of the very talented champion.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 30, as part of the big triple header on Fuji TV, Masayuki Ito will defend his newly won WBO Super Featherweight World Championship, against top ranked Russian fighter Evgeny Chuprakov, in Ota City, Japan.
Masayuki Ito (24-1-1/12 KOs) is one of Japan’s brightest new stars. Much like Satoshi Shimizu, Takeshi Inoue, Masayoshi Nakatani & Tsubasa Koura, he is looking to leave his mark on the world stage. Made his pro debut in 2009, at only 18 years of age, Ito remained undefeated for 5 years while winning 16 fights in a row (plus a WBC Youth belt) against the likes of Masao Nakamura (former OPBF & reigning WBO Asia Pacific champion), Ryan Sermona (former WBC International champion) as well as Masaru Sueyoshi (current Japanese & OPBF champion/WBO #6). His one and only loss was a majority decision to Rikki Naito.
Ito quickly bounced back as he stopped Dai Iwai on August of 2015, to win the vacant OPBF Super Featherweight crown. He then squared off with the IBF Asia champion Shingo Eto, for 12 exciting rounds, to mark his inaguaral title defense. One of his biggest fights at the time came at New Year‘s Eve of 2016, when he faced the WBO Asia Pacific champion Takuya Watanabe, in a double title bout. Ito slowly and methodically picked the veteran apart (Watanabe’s record was 30-6), showcasing tremendous hand speed and footwork. By the time it was over, Watanabe seemed exhausted, while Ito looked as fresh as in the opening round. In the end, Ito left with the unanimous decision and the unified OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific belts.
After knocking out the much more experienced Lorenzo Villanueva (33-2) in a WBO Asia Pacific defense, Ito’s focus was finally shifted to the world championship hunt. The Japanese superstar added 2 more stoppages to his already impressive record before going toe to toe with undefeated Puerto Rican boxer Christopher Diaz (23-0), this past July, for the vacant WBO Super Featherweight World Title. In a thrilling encounter between two hungry young lions, Ito and Diaz had one of the best world title fights of 2018, with both men going back and forth, swinging for the fences, for 36 unforgettable minutes. Ito’s game was much more precise and well calculated, which became even more evident during the fourth round, as he dropped Diaz with an incredibly fast right-right-left-right combination. After the dust had settled, Masayuki Ito left Florida as the new WBO World Champion.
However, Ito’s journey will only get tougher and tougher at this point, as the best in the division will attempt to claim his crown for their own. Before we even get to the next year, he is tasked to defend his belt against another fighter with a flawless record, coming all the way from Russia.
Evgeny Chuprakov (20-10/10 KOs) is the Number 1 ranked Super Featherweight by the WBO. A cracking fighter, who made his debut in 2011, has dominated the Russian scene from early on, winning their National championship in just his seventh match.
On September of 2015, his skills were tested against a former IBF World Champion, Dmitry Kirillov (31-6). Despite being a relative young fighter to the game still, Chuprakov looked like the real pro, out-boxing Kirillov and shockingly stopping him in the eight round, after landing a devastating liver shot, rendering the veteran unable to continue. Evgeny left Yekaterinburg with the biggest win of his career, plus the WBO European title.
Chuprakov went on to defend his belt twice, against Timur Akhundov and German champion Sebastian Tlatlik. Tlatlik, who was undefeated at the time, was dropped by an overhand right in the second round and continued to endure a plethora of strikes, until the fifth, which left the referee with no choice but to stop the fight. The Russian prodigy also captured the vacant WBO Intercontinental strap the following year, after a hard fought battle with another undefeated fighter, Jeremiah Nakathila. His first title defense was against Eden Sonsona, a former WBC International Silver champion who hadn’t lost a fight since 2010. Evgeny knocked him down twice (in the 3rd & 4th round), much to the joy of the Russian fans. The fight ended in the fifth again, since Sonsona couldn’t withstand the beating that he was receiving. With 2 more wins under his belt, Chuprakov was finally named the mandatory challenger for the WBO World Championship.
This is a significant fight for both the challenger as well as the champion. Chuprakov’s entire career has been leading up to this point, realizing his dream of winning the big one, a task which won’t be easily accomplished, especially since he’s taking the champion on his home turf. At the same time, Ito is still eager to prove himself, to the fans and to the critics alike, as he never got the opportunity to fight Lomachenko, thus never got to defeat the former champion for the belt he currently holds. This will be a clash of 2 strong, intelligent and fast boxers, whose styles are very similar to each other. So it all comes down to this: Who wants it more? Who is ready to make history? Who can go that extra mile? Only a few days left until we find out.By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 30, live on Fuji Television, Takuma Inoue takes on undefeated Thai boxer Petch Sor Chitpattana for the Interim WBC Bantamweight World Championship.
Takuma Inoue (12-0 / 3 KOs) is the younger brother of Japanese multi-time World champion, Naoya Inoue. He took up boxing at a very young age, after watching his sibling compete. During his amateur days, he won several tournaments, including the National Sports Festival in 2011 at Minimumweight, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event. Takuma also placed second in 2012 at Light Flyweight, losing only to future 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka. His record stood at 52-5.
Showing much promise as an amateur, Takuma made his pro debut in 2013, when he was barely 18 years old. His first opponent was future WBO Minimumweight World Champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6). Even though he was outmatched, Inoue managed to pull off the upset and get the unanimous decision over the much more experienced boxer. That was his one and only pro fight in the light flyweight division.
He immediately jumped to flyweight, facing a worthy foe in Teeraphong Utaida (37-6). Neither the fact that he moved up a weight class nor that he transitioned from 6 to 8 rounds, scared the young Japanese prodigy. Once again, Takuma proved he is a force to be reckoned with, going the distance and earning yet another victory. After knocking out a debuting Chalerm Kotala, Inoue outclassed world title challenger Nestor Daniel Narvaes (20-3) at super flyweight, despite that being just his fourth fight.
Takuma’s sound skills and technique, earned him his first championship when he fought Mark Anthony Geraldo (35-9), for the vacant OPBF Super Flyweight crown, in 2015. At the time, Inoue was only 19 years old! Before the year was over, he marked his inaugural defense over Rene Dacquel (20-8). For this outstanding year, Takuma was named the “2015 Prospect of the Year” by the Ring magazine.
In 2016, Takuma beat Filipino stand out Froilan Saludar (28-3) at the Sky Arena in Japan, before “graduating” to bantamweight. Saludar managed to drop him early in the first but Inoue returned the favor in the later rounds. The Japanese fighter was set to face Marlon Tapales (31-2) for the WBO Bantamweight World Title on December of the same year. Unfortunately, bad luck stroke Inoue as he fractured his hand in training, thus withdrawing from his one and only world title fight to date.
Inoue made his return on August of 2017, in an epic war with 4-time world title contender Hiroyuki Kudaka (26-18). Both men went back and forth for 10 rounds, exchanging shots and stealing the show. Takuma remained unbeaten and proved that he was back and stronger than ever. Since then, he has defeated former Japanese champion Kentaro Masuda (27-9), Indonesian journeyman Waldo Sabu (13-13) and OPBF champion Mark John Yap (29-13), in a WBC eliminator, earning himself another opportunity at the big one.
Tasana Salapat (48-0 / 33 KOs) also known as Petch Sor Chitpattana, is the man that stands between Takuma and the World championship. The former May Thai fighter and 7 year young veteran has made a name for himself in Thailand by knocking people out in impressive fashion. However, a deeper look at his record is enough to let anyone realize that Salapat has never been in the ring with anyone significant. Many of his opponents are either with losing records or debuting, while the majority has almost an equal number of wins and loses. This doesn’t negate the fact that he is a skilled boxer. He does throw fast combinations has tremendous cardio and possesses a mean left, but without having seen him against a world class foe, it’s not easy to say for sure how good he truly is. On the other hand, Takuma has been facing top level competition his entire career. Inoue might not be the KO artist his Thai rival is, but he definitely has the experience factor, considering his amateur and pro pedigree.
The real question is, have Salapat’s 48 fights prepared him for his biggest challenge to date or will he crumble under the pressure when he steps into the ring with one of Japan’s brightest prospects ? Tune in on Fuji TV to find out !
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 30, Ken Shiro will defend the WBC Light Flyweight World Championship, for the 5th time, against Mexican challenger Saul “Baby” Juarez, live on Fuji Television, in Japan.
Ken Shiro (14-0 / 8 KOs) was introduced to the sport, from a very young age, by his father Hisashi Teraji, a former OPBF Light Heavyweight champion. Shiro’s amateur career lasted 7 years, from 2007 to 2014, accumulating a record of 58-16. His most significant accomplishments were winning the 68th National Sports Festival (light flyweight division), as well as placing second at the All Japan Championships.
Turned pro in 2014, he displayed his fighting spirit early on by taking on fighters, way more experienced than him, such as Heri Amol (37-30), Katsunori Nagamine (15-2), Takashi Omae (13-6) and Rolly Sumalpong (10-3). On December of 2015, Shiro was in a thrilling encounter with Kenichi Horikawa (38-15) for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Despite having only 5 pro fights under his belt, Shiro went toe to toe with the veteran for 10 rounds, which kept the fans at Korakuen on their feet, applauding the effort of both men. When the fight was over, the young lion left the victor and the new Japanese champion.
After that breakout performance, Shiro made his inaugural defense over one time world title challenger Atsushi Kakutani (19-7). The “Smiling Assassin” was absolutely dominant, knocking Atsushi down thrice, in just the first round, for the TKO win. On August of 2016, he also acquired the vacant OPBF crown when he defeated Toshimasa Ouchi (20-9), as well as defended it once against Lester Abutan (13-9), who he crushed with a lethal flurry of punches in the third round.
The unstoppable Japanese superstar eventually earned his big opportunity, on May of last year, as he challenged Ganigan Lopez (35-8) for the WBC Light Flyweight World Championship, at the Ariake Colosseum. Both challenger and champion fought valiantly, in a very close encounter, which undoubtedly was the biggest test of Shiro’s career at the time. “El Maravilla” had won the belt a year prior to their encounter, from Yu Kimura, and was determined to leave Japan once again with the gold. Shiro on the other hand, wasn’t going to let his moment go to waste. It was a hard hitting contest that saw the Japanese fighter took on a heavy beating but kept on coming back with strong offense of his own. During the last round, Lopez and Shiro left it all in the ring, as they engaged in a wild brawl, which was the perfect conclusion to this bout. In the end, the judges scored the match in favor of Ken Shiro, thus declaring him the new world champion, at the age of 25.
Shiro proceeded to defend his title, the same year, twice. His first challenger was former World champion Pedro Guevara (33-3). It was a slow and methodical contest which turned into a slugfest during the last 4 rounds. Shiro showcased his incredible hand speed and body work, which led him getting the majority decision. His second one was Gilberto Pedroza (18-5). It was a one-sided affair that ended violently in the 4th, when the champ stormed Pedroza with a plethora of body shots.
On May of 2018, the rematch between Shiro and Lopez was set to take place at Ota-City’s General Gymnasium. Many fans and critics alike believed that the Mexican was robbed in their previous encounter and expected him to regain his championship. In a stunning turn of events, Shiro stopped Lopez in just the second round after he landed a well timed right hook to the body, leaving the former champion unable to answer the referee’s 10 count, plus putting any doubts of his legitimacy to rest.
Ken Shiro more recently marked his 4th defense against the former IBF World champion Milan Melindo (37-4), at the Yokohama Arena. Undoubtedly one of his best performances today, Shiro dominated in every round, almost leaving no room for offense to his opponent, punishing Melindo with fast combinations through out the match, until the end came in the 7th round, via referee stoppage.
Saul Juarez (24-8 / 13 KOs) will be the fifth man that will attempt to dethrone the unstoppable Japanese Superstar. “Baby’s” career has been filled with ups and downs. From winning the Cinturon de Oro XVI Light Flyweight Tournament, during his early days as a pro, to straggling to earn a shot at the big one. For example, Juarez managed to stop former WBC Silver champion and world title contender Armando Torres (23-18) back in 2013, but later lost to future IBF champion, the aforementioned Milan Melindo, in a world title eliminator.
Two of his biggest victories came in 2015, against former WBC World champion Adrian Hernandez (30-5). However, it must be pointed out that his first win was due to a cut, while the second one was a split decision, in which Hernandez also dropped him during the early rounds. Soon after, Juarez transitioned to the Minimumweight division. Despite scoring a win over former champion Oswaldo Novoa (14-8), he failed to capture the crown when he faced Chayaphon Moonsri (52-0) for the WBC strap.
After a 4 fight losing streak, Juarez made a comeback earlier this year when he defeated the WBC Light Flyweight Silver champion and former world title contender Gilberto Parra (26-4) to win the WBC Latino belt. Now standing as the Number 8 ranked light flyweight by the WBC, the Mexican will challenge Ken Shiro for the World Championship on December 30.
Needless to say, even though Juarez is a strong boxer, he is nowhere near Ken Shiro’s level. His lack of intelligent defense and head movement have cost him many battles, as he lets himself constantly exposed, suffering a lot of damage, thus staying behind on the judges scorecards (Juarez has never been stopped). With fighters like Jonathan Taconing, Edward Heno, Tetsuya Hisada and Ryoichi Taguchi higher on the WBC rankings, it’s clear that Juarez was picked mostly to keep Ken Shiro on his toes. Also, it’s a big tradition in Japan, watching fights during the Holidays, so it’s a chance for Ken Shiro to please the Japanese fans with another spectacular performance and possibly another KO, before the year is over.
The Minimumweight division has been an interesting one recently, which has been given more attention than usual due to Thailand's Wanheng Menayothin reaching 51-0 and breaking the 50-0 record of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Despite the increase in attention it's had, that attention really hasn't been spread across the whole division, and that's a shame given that the division is actually really interesting at the moment. Not only do you have Wanheng with a world title but also the incredibly exciting Vic Saludar and, at the time of writing, the brilliantly named Knockout CP Freshmart. The division also has rising contenders and Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi who are both exciting, heavy handed and talented fighters who will find themselves in the mix for years to come.
Another fighter who is expected to be in mix for the coming years is Filipino maestro Mark Anthony Barriga (9-0, 1), who looks to become the IBF champion this coming Saturday, as he takes on fellow unbeaten and Carlos Licona (13-0, 2) for the vacant title.
The title was vacated earlier this year by Hiroto Kyoguchi, who decided to move up in weight. Prior to vacating Barriga had earned the mandatory position for a title shot, with Licona being ordered by the IBF to be the co-challenger for the vacant title. After several weeks of talks it ended up on this weekend's big card from the US, giving both fighters the chance to capitalise on a big show.
For those that haven't seen Barriga he has regularly been compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr. He is one of the most naturally skilled fighters in the sport, with amazing movement, timing and ring craft. He understands distance like very few fighters in the sport and can make good fighters look like rank novices just from his understanding of the ring. His one flaw is that he lacks power, he really is one of the lightest punchers in the sport, but he's a very crisp puncher, who's accurate, sharp and clean with his work.
The Filipino has only been a professional since July 2016 but has already impressed, with particularly notable wins against former world title challengers Samartlek Kokietgym and Gabriel Mendoza, barely losing a round in those bouts combined.
The 23 Mexican born American Licona made his debut in December 2014 and has fought in Mexico, the US and Puerto Rico. Though his career his most notable opponent has been former world title challenger Janiel Rivera, and that's really his only win against an opponent of any name value.
Sadly there is very little footage of Licona, so it's hard to know much about his style, though given his record, and his lack of stoppages, we can assume he's not a puncher. His only stoppages so far both came in his first 4 bouts and since then he's not found anything closing in a stoppage. That's not to say not hitting hard will be an issue here, but it's one thing would help when fighting Barriga. What we expect to see is Licona to be another talented, slick boxer.
We could rave about how good we thing Barriga is, but the reality that we don't think we'll need to. Instead we think Barriga will shine here and will turn heads with a mature, skilled and excellent performance of boxing. We suspect it'll be a performance that will please the purists, rather than the fans looking for excitement, but we're pretty confident that Barriga will put on an exhibition against Licona and come out on top.
We know that's a risky prediction, given how little we've managed to see of Licona, but we're confident that Barriga really is that good, and is the most technically skilled fighter at 105lbs, by quite some margin.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 28, the WBA Minimumweight World Champion Thammanoon Niyomtrong will make his 6th defense, against the man, whom he beat for that very title, Byron Rojas.
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (18-0/7 KOs), also known as Knockout CP Freshmart, just like the majority of the boxers from Thailand, he began his fighting career as a Muay Thai fighter. During that time, he managed to win the Thai National as well as the Lumpinee & Rajadamnern Stadium titles, which are considered to be the sport’s most prestigious championships. By doing so, Niyomtrong has made himself a member of that elite group of men, who have held Muay Thai & Boxing world titles, such as Saensak Muangsurin, Samart Payakaroon and Veeraphol Sahaprom.
He made his pro boxing debut in 2012, and in just 2 years he won 8 fights, 6 of those via KO/TKO. On November of 2014, he took on Carlos Buitrago for the interim WBA Minimumweight World title. Niyomtrong put on a boxing clinic, keeping the pressure on for the entirety of the match, not slowing down for a single minute. Despite suffering a nasty cut at his left eye, his superior striking and counter game earned him the unanimous decision victory that night, thus the interim belt. Their rematch in 2016, was pretty much the same, only this time, Niyomtrong was even more dominant than before.
Knockout CP Freshmart defended the interim WBA title against 2 time World champion Muhammad Rachman, back in 2015. As in the aforementioned bout, the champ kept peppering Rachman constantly for 12 rounds. To the Indonesian’s credit, he never went down and also had a good offense, but nothing game changing. In the end, Niyomtrong showcased incredible hand speed and movement, to once again leave with the gold.
In 2016 he faced the WBA World champion Byron Rojas in a unification fight. Niyomtrong was going for the clinch, every time after throwing a good combination or got tagged, slowing the pace down, in what was a smart but less than exciting strategy, that secured him the win. 6 months later, Niyomtrong successfully defended his world title for the 1st time against former OPBF Light Flyweight champion Shin Ono, after dropping him in the 10th round and continued the assault until the closing bell. He also stopped former Japanese champion Go Odaira, with a sweet right cross in the 5th, after punishing him with a plethora of body shots.
After retaining the world title 2 more times, against Rey Loreto and Toto Landero, he squared off against former WBC World Champion Chaozhong Xiong, this past July, in China. After a relatively slow start to the match, Niyomtrong caught Xiong with a perfectly timed right cross to the chin, during the 3rd round, stunning the former champion momentarily. The action then picked up, as both fighters were trading punches, with the Thai boxer getting the better of these exchanges. Since Niyomtrong was the one pushing the action for the vast majority of the fight, he was awarded the decision, improving his record to a perfect 18-0.
Knockout CP Freshmart will now come face to face again with Byron Rojas (25-3/11 KOs), in a rematch 2.5 years in the making. The Nicaraguan’s biggest achievement was winning a close decision over the WBA Super World Minimumweight Champion Hekkie Budler (now the WBA Light Flyweight World Champion), back in 2016. After losing the title, he has been undefeated in his last 8 fights, including a victory over former WBC Silver champion Carlos Ortega, which was an action-packed eight rounder. Niyomtrong has had tougher challenges in that same timeframe, which has allowed him to improve his skills even further, in comparison to Rojas who has battled against lesser opponents. At that point, it’s safe to say that the Thai fighter will once again walk out with the victory. The real question is, what’s next for Niyomtrong. A unification bout with another champion, like Vic Saludar (IBF) or maybe it’s time for the former Muay Thai king to try his hand at Light Flyweight ? Only time will tell.
The sport of boxing might still be a sport where two fighters hit each other inside a ring trying to either render their opponent unconscious or win a decision, but outside of the ring there is a lot of changes, with one of the biggest ones stateside being HBO's decision to leave boxing. The US television giant was once a cornerstone of boxing television in the US and the premier channel for bouts Stateside. Their long relationship with the sport however comes to end shortly.
One of the very final shows that HBO will air will be headlined by a WBA Light Heavyweight title clash between Kyrgyzstan born Russian champion Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11) and Haitian born Canadian Jean Pascal (33-5-1-1, 20). It's not the most amazing of bouts, but it should be a good chance for Bivol to end an impressive year and do so against an opponent with some name value, albeit a faded name.
The 27 year old Bivol has been impressive ever since making his debut in 2014, against the experienced Jorge Rodriguez Olivera. Unlike many prospects he hasn't been softly matched at all, and he's never faced a fighter with a losing record, in fact the least notable opponent he's faced so far is Yevgenii Makhteienko who surprisingly lasted 10 rounds with Bivol in 2016. In just 14 fights he has already stamped his name as one of the leading fighters at Light Heavyweight, alongside Eleider alvarez, Adonis Stevenson, Badou Jack and Artur Beterbiev. Unlike those others however he's a relative spring chicken at 27 years old, in what appears to be a division full of older men at the top.
In the ring Bivol is an aggressive yet technical fighter, who fights to a relatively text book style, but at a very high tempo. He's a crisp, clean puncher, with good variety to his work, an excellent output and under-rated defense. If we're being honest the most impressive thing about him isn't his high output, but the fact he can keep it up for all 12 rounds. Sadly he can look a bit predictable, and a smart, well educated and unorthodox fighter can give him problems, as we saw earlier this year against Isaac Chilemba who really tested Bivol, for the first time in his career. We suspect some seasoning, and experience will help there, though there is a feeling that he lacks in terms of ingenuity, and won't be inventive in how he approaches certain opponents. That's not too much of an issue, given his plan A is so effective, but would be one possible improvement for him going forward.
At 36 years old Pascal is one of the many Light Heavyweights who are sticking around the top 10 but are past their physical primes. In fact Pascal may be the most war worn and damaged of the older men in the division, given he has had so many tough fights during his 40 fight career. He has been competing around the top of the sport for a decade, with his 2008 war with Carl Froch living long in the memory. Since facing Froch for the WBC Super Middleweight title he has shared the ring with the likes of Adrian Diaconu, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucian Bute, Sergey Kovalev, Yunieski Gonzalez and Elerider Alvarez. A real who's who. Sadly for Pascal he has taken a lot of punishment in those fights, and was twice stopped by Kovalev. In more recent years those battles have taken a toll on him, and his reliance on heart, natural explosiveness and athleticism has proven to be problematic, as his body has taken significant damage and aged.
At his best Pascal was a blood and guts warrior, with heavy hands, real quickness, and an awkward style that depended heavily on his explosiveness. As he's aged his legs have slowed, his hands are not quite as quick as they were, his power's not as effective with the loss of speed and his chin isn't what it once was. He's still awkward, but he's probably about 6 years from his peak, and that's an issue against a young gun like Bivol.
At his best Pascal would have made for a very tricky assignment for Bivol. The unorthodox style of Pascal, who regularly leaped in and came at opponents from peculiar angles, would have given the text book style of Bivol real questions to answer. Sadly however this faded Pascal will be unlikely to give Bivol much of a fight, and will instead be expected to be chewed up and stopp in the middle or later rounds, as Bivol moves towards unification contests in 2019.
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.