Quite often in this wonderful sport we see fighters who are tipped for the top falling short of the expectations heaped on their shoulders. We've all seen the Olympic gold medal winners who fails to make it to the big time and the other highly regarded former amateurs who went to the top in the unpaid ranks but failed to gain the same success as a professional.
One fighter looking to avoid joining those is Filipino fighter Froilan Saludar (31-3-1, 22) who is now 30 years old and essentially in last chance saloon, and that latest subject of our "Who are you?" feature.
The heavy handed Saludar was tipped for major success very early in his professional career, more than a decade ago, and whilst he's yet to reach the top he banged on the door a few times and has time on side for one more charge. But who exactly is Froilan Saludar?
Froilan Saludar, dubbed "The Sniper", was a once capable amateur who competed internationally in a number of notable tournaments. Those included the Ahmet Comert Tournament, the Xinjiang International Tournament and the Asian Junior Championships all in 2007. Sadly he failed to reach the medal stages in any of those competitions, but even getting as far as he did was something. What was notable is that Froilan's success in the amateurs was overshadowed by that of his brothers, Rey and Vic Saludar, who both took medals at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
In 2009 Froilan began his professional campaign and stopped his first 3 opponents, including Jhon Gemino who later became a solid journeyman. When his stoppage run came to an end Saludar continued to pick up wins moving to 6-0 (3) before suffering a technical draw in a 2010 bout against Brian Diano. That draw was the only blip on Saludar's record in his first 20 fights, in which he went 19-0-1 (12).
Although Saludar hadn't scored any major wins in his first 20 bouts he did have notable wins not just over a young Gemino but also Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking, aka Komgrich Nantapech. Sadly his unbeaten run came to an end in spectacular fashion when he was stopped in a world title eliminator by McWilliams Arroyo. That loss came in 2014 and was a major set back, but one that Saludar bounced back from by scoring 4 wins and securing a bout with Takuma Inoue. Sadly that was where Saludar suffered his second loss, and fell to 23-2-1 (14). Despite dropping Inoue Saludar was dropped twice by Inoue late on and was a clearly beaten by Naoya Inoue's young brother.
Saludar would again bounce back from a loss and run up 5 straight wins, all inside the distance, before getting a world title fight against the then WBO Flyweight champion Sho Kimura. Again the step up to world class proved too much for Saludar, who was stopped in 6 rounds by Kimura, despite a very good start by Saludar who had boxed well early on before being ground down.
As we've seen from Saludar after every loss, he has bounced back, and since losing to Kimura in July 2018 he has notched 3 wins, all by stoppage, including a very notable victory in September 2019 over Tsubasa Murachi for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title. That win was enough to put Saludar into the WBO world rankings, again, and put him on the way to another potential world title fight.
Later this month Saludar will make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific title, as he takes on 33 year old Japanese puncher Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4, 11). A win there will boost Saludar WBO ranking further and potentially give the hard hitting Filipino one more chance to hit the big time.
Although known in the west for his loss to Arroyo, and subsequent defeats to Inoue and Kimura, Saludar is not someone to over-look. The talented boxer puncher has had to rebuild, but at 30 with experience on his side and 35 professional bouts under his belt, including 3 bouts with world class opponents, he certainly shouldn't be written off. Saludar is one of those fighters who will seemingly only lose when he takes on world class fighters, and is likely to become a genuine gatekeeper.
Whilst Saludar being a gatekeeper would be a disappointment, given early expectations, it would certainly not be a terrible position to be, given the incredible depth at Super Flyweight right now, and being a gatekeeper would mean he's only a win or two away from a world title fight.
We don't imagine Saludar ever becoming a world champion, but not every one can. Finding success at regional level, fighting for a world title and being in the general mix is a success, and we wouldn't be surprised at Saludar getting one more crack at a major title before his career comes to an end.
Whilst February certainly didn't start quickly it does get going in the second half of the month with a flurry of fights taking place with Asian fighters involved.
Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9) Vs Izuki Tomioka (7-2-1, 2) -
In the headline bout of a Dimond Glove card in Tokyo we'll see Japanese Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino defending his title again mandatory challenger Izuki Tomioka in the second of this year's Champion carnival bouts. For Yoshino this is expected to be a test of his technical boxing skills, as Tomioka is a genuinely talented boxer-mover. On the other hand Tomioka is taking on, arguably, his toughest opponent to date and did come up short in his last bout at this type of level.
Daigo Higa (15-1, 15) Vs Jason Buenaobra (7-4-3, 3)
After almost 2 years away from the ring former world champion Daigo Higa returns, and takes on rugged Filipino foe Jason Buenaobra. This should be a win for Higa, but we expect him to be very emotional, and he is going up against someone who has never been stopped before, so he will have to work hard for the win. It's also worth noting that Buenaobra is the naturally bigger man and will not be there looking to just make up the numbers.
Froilan Saludar (31-3-1, 22) Vs Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4, 11)
Filipino Froilan Saludar returns to Japan to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title, as he battles hard hitting, but technically limited, Japanese challenger Ryuji Fukunaga. On paper this looks like it could be very explosive, and we wouldn't be surprised at all with the bout ending early. Fukunaga hasn't been able to show his power when he has faced his toughest opponents, and Saludar is certainly among the best opponents that he has faced.
Yuki Nakajima (3-1, 3) Vs Shisui Kawabata (2-1, 2)
In a mouth watering clash of young prospects we'll see Yuki Nakajima take on Shisui Kawabata. On paper this doesn't look like one that will get fans outside of Japan too excited, but given the skills of the two men we are really excited by this one. Nakajima, the younger brother of Kazuki Nakajima, is a former amateur standout and made a real mark on the domestic amateur scene whilst Kawabata has been used as a sparring partner by Naoya, showing the quality that he has shared the ring with. We expect this to be very, very good.
Ryota Yamauchi (5-1, 4) Vs MJ Bo (8-3-2, 4)
World ranked Japanese fighter Ryota Yamauchi looks to build on August's win over Alphoe Dagayloan. Sadly Yamauchi's win over Dagayloan cost him a Japanese title eliminator, due to the injuries he suffered in that bout, and he'll be lookign to make up for it in 2020. MJ Bo, from the Philippines was stopped last time he fought in Japan, by Yuta Nakayama, but is a capable opponent and should ask questions of Yamauchi.
Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26) vs Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16)
Mexican fighter Emanuel Navarrete looks to make his fifth defense of the WBO Super Bantamweight title as he takes on Filipino challenger Jeo Santisima. The bout is expected to be a mismatch by many, especially given Navarrete's run since winning the title in late 2018. The champion is seen a real monster in the Super Bantamweight division and will come into the bout full of confidence. Although the 23 Santisima isn't well known outside of the Philippines he is riding a 17 fight winning run and has stopped 15 of those, so he certainly enters with a punchers chance, if nothing else.
Riku Nagahama (11-2-1, 4) Vs Kudura Kaneko (11-0, 8)
Unbeaten Japanese-Afghan fighter Kudura Kaneko looks to extend his perfect record as he goes up against the talented Riku Nagahama in a bout for the vacant OPBF Welterweight title. Although neither of these two are well known outside of Japan the bout is a significant one and the winner will see their hopes of landing a big international fight given a huge shot in the arm. Of the two Nagahama has faced better competition, but has lost in his 2 most notable bouts, whilst Kaneko looks to be a fighter on the rise. A very interesting clash.
Jae Woo Lee (7-2, 6) Vs Shingo Kusano (12-8-1, 5)
Potentially the hidden gem for the month is a clash between Jae Woo Lee and Shingo Kusano, who clash in one of the two Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament semi finals. The little known Lee made fans sit up and take note last November, when he stopped Tsuyoshi Tameda in a thrilling little war. Shingo Kusano also thrilled when he fought on the same November card, pulling himself off the canvas and battling back through some real scares against Qiang Ma. Expect this one to be exciting, and not to go the distance.
Richard Pumicpic (21-10-2, 6) Vs Daisuke Watanabe (9-4-2, 6)
The other Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament semi final bout will see Filipino veteran Richard Pumicpic battle Japanese foe Daisuke Watanabe. This has the potential to be very exciting, or a total mess. Both guys like to let their hands go but with 6 technical decisions between them there's a real risk of headbutts derailing the fight. Fingers crossed the heads don't come in to contact too often and we instead get a bit of a thriller!
After a flurry of activity over the past few days we now head into the back stretch of the month and it's another busy stretch, with some excellent match ups coming up.
Taku Kuwahara (5-0, 4) vs Jonathan Refugio (21-6-5, 7) - Tokyo, Japan
Touted Ohashi gym prospect Taku Kuwahara is regarded highly in Japan but has yet to step up. That changes on September 17th when he takes on experienced Filipino Jonathan Refugio in a big step up. This should serve as a genuine test for Kuwahara, who has shown touches of brilliance, but is certainly not a gimme for the unbeaten man as he goes against a foe who has given world class fighters decent competition.
Yusaku Kuga (18-3-1, 12) vs Yosuke Fujihara (18-6, 5) - Tokyo, Japan
Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yusaku Kuga will be looking to make his first defense of his second reign as he takes on the experienced, but limited, Yosuke Fujihara. On paper this looks a pretty even looking match up, but in reality should be little more than a showcase defense for the champion, who is a monster at the domestic level. We suspect Kuga runs through a brave Fujihara in only a handful of rounds.
Tsubasa Murachi (4-0, 3) Vs Froilan Saludar (30-3-1, 21) - Tokyo, Japan
A really good match up will see fast rising Japanese youngster Tsubasa Murachi take on former world title challenger Froiland Saludar in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title. For Murachi this is a huge step up, a bit like the previously mentioned Kuwahara, though he has shown touches of being a fantastic young prospect and his team clearly have a lot of belief in him. Saludar has proven to not be world class, but he's certainly a good gate keeper type fighter and all 3 of his losses have come to world class opposition. A win for Murachi puts him on the fringes of the world rankings whilst a win for Saludar keeps his career alive, a very important bout.
Masataka Taniguchi (11-3, 7) vs Kai Ishizawa (6-0, 6) -Tokyo, Japan
In a Japanese eliminator at Minimumweight we'll see former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi take on Japanese Youth champion Kai Ishizawa. For Taniguchi this is not a bout he can afford to lose, following a loss earlier this year to Vic Saludar, and the talented Watanabe gym fighter has lost 3 of his most significant bout to date. On the other hand this is a massive step up in class for Ishizawa, and it could end up being too much too soon for the youngster. Ishizawa has looked good so far, but his aggression is crude and he may be a fight or two away from being polished enough to take on someone like Taniguchi. This should be very exciting, and very hard hitting.
Wakako Fujiwara (8-3-2, 3) vs Yoshie Wakasa (6-1, 2) - Osaka, Japan
The in form Wakako Fujiwara looks to defend her OPBF Female Bantamweight title, as she takes on the once beaten Yoshie Wakasa. Both enter this bout on the back of a loss, though it's worth noting that Fujiwara's loss came at Super Featherweight to world champion Hyun Mi Choi, whilst Wakasa lost in a domestic Bantamweight title fight to Miyo Yoshida. Fujiwara should be strongly favoured, but Wakasa is going to be there to win and could make for a very tough challenge.
Miki Mitsuda (5-5, 4) vs Kimika Miyoshi (13-12-1, 5) - Osaka, Japan
Ina Japanese female Featherweight title bout Miki Mitsuda takes on veteran Kimika Miyoshi. Mitsuda will be looking to make her first defense of the title, following her title win in April against Asami Jinnari, and she is in good form, going 4-1 in her last 5. Miyoshi is a multi-weight OPBF champion, but has not lost her last 4 and is more than 3 years removed from her last win. This should be a competitive bout, but we can't see it really getting much attention given the limitations of both fighters.
Batyrzhan Jukembayev (16-0-0-2, 13) vs Miguel Vazquez (41-8, 15) - Quebec, Canada
Unbeaten Kazakh Batyrzhan Jukembayev takes on his biggest test so far as he battles Mexican fighter Miguel Vazquez, himself a former IBF Lightweight champion. The aggressive Jukembayev has been screaming for a serious test for a while now and here he's getting one against a very talented, though some what faded Vazquez. At his best Vazquez was a real nightmare to fight, and whilst he's still talented he has shown signs of slipping in recent years. Jukambayev isn't the most polished, and we expect the Canadian based Kazakh to struggle at times, but youth and power should be enough to earn him a win here.
Batyr Akhmedov (7-0, 6) Vs Mario Barrios (24-0, 16) - Los Angeles, USA
The WBA have created a new title at Light Welterweight and look to fill it as Uzbek born, Russian based puncher Batyr Akhmedov takes on in form American Mario Barrios, in what should be a hard hitting and exciting contest. On paper neither of these men will be in the top 10 in the division, and neither would be ready to face the WBA "super" champion Regis Prograis, but the styles of the two men involved should make for a sensational battle. Back in the day this would have been a brilliant eliminator type bout, and it's a shame in many ways that the bout is instead for a secondary title. Saying that however it should still be a great fight and well worth tuning in for.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces