On February 13th we'll see hard hitting Tajik Super Featherweight Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12) get his first world title bout, as he challenges IBF world champion Joseph "Jo Jo" Diaz in Indio California. For many this will be the first time they've had the chance to see the Tajik fighter, and with that in mind we though we'd take the opportunity to help get fans up to date with the Tajik, and learn get an idea of what to expect when he shares the ring with Diaz.
Born in August 1994 in Bokhtar, which is also known as Qurghonteppa in the south of Tajikistan, Rakhimov has been on the boxing scene for years. In fact he's been on the radar of those who following amateur boxing since he was a teenager.
As is typical with amateur records it's hard to know exactly when Rakhimov first fought as an amateur, but we do know that he was making a mark internationally as a teenager, as he competed at the 2011 AIBA World Junior Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan. Unfortunately he was eliminated in his first bout, losing a competitive bout to local fighter Erbolat Ermekov at 57KG's.
In 2013, whilst still a teen, Rakhimov won the first of 3 Tajik national championships, repeating the feat in 2014 and 2015 as he dominated the domestic scene.
Of course it wasn't only domestic competitions that Rakhimov competed in. In 2013, at the World Championships in Kazakhstan, he reached the last 16 before being eliminator by Ermek Sakenov. In 2014 he reached the quarter finals of the Serik Konakbayev Prizes Tournament, and later went on to win bronze at the World University Championships eliminating talented Uzbek Ravshanbek Umurzakov along the way.
Sadly an appearance at the 2016 Rio Olympics eluded Rakhimov after he lost to Indian fighter Manoj Kumar in the quarter finals of the World Olympic Qualifier in Azerbaijan.
Like many Central Asian fighters Rakhimov had his eyes on success in both of the amateur ranks and professional ranks. Despite wanting to compete at the Rio Olympics, and going to a qualifying event in the summer, he had actually made his professional debut in late 2015. He had signed with Russian based company "RCC Boxing Promotions", and quickly got off to a good startm scoring his first two wins in December 2015, both by stoppage.
Despite viewing the Olympics highly Rakhimov managed to secure 3 more professional wins before the Olympic qualifying event, and was 5-0 (3) by the time he attended the Olympic qualifier. Not only that but he had also answered some questions. He showed his heart with a win over the then 9-0 Mirzhan Zhaxylykov, who dropped Rakhimov before the Tajik bounced back, and showed his stamina with a 6 round win over Musaib Asadov.
Following the Olympic qualifying event Rakhimov began to take the professional game more seriously and in late 2016 scored noteworthy stoppage wins over Filipino fighters Jerry Castroverde and Rolden Aldea. The win over Castroverde sa Rakhimov claim the WBO Inter-Continental Youth Super Featherweight title, which he then defended against Aldea just a month later.
Rakhimov continued to face Filipino fighters in the first half of 2017, stopping Rogelio Jun Doliguez and Jimmy Paypa mid-way through scheduled 10 rounders. Those wins lead him to bigger tests and in September 2017 he over-came tough Mexican fighter Amanuel Lopez, with a 12 round decision, to claim the lightly regarded IBO Super Featherweight world title. This was the first time Rakhimov had been beyond 6 rounds, and again got a chance to answer questions about his potential and his ability.
Despite the IBO title being regarded as a bit of a joke in many places Rakhimov defended it against solid challengers. His first defense saw him stopping former IBF Super Featherweight champion Malcolm Klassen in 8 rounds, giving Klassen his first stoppage in 43 bouts. He then followed that up by stopping the always under-rated Robinson Castellanos in 2 rounds, in what was Castellanos' first bout since losing a split technical decision to WBA "super" champion Jezzrel Corrales. The he notched a third defense, stopping South African challenger Rofhiwa Maemu.
With impressive wins stacking up for the hard hitting southpaw Rakhimov was starting to climb the world rankings, and in September 2019 he got the chance to travel to Southg Africa for an IBF world title eliminator against unbeaten South African slickster Azinga Fuzile. The South African seemed too quick, too smart, and too sharp for Rakhimov through the first 7 rounds, but Rakhimov showed his toughness his desire and his will to win, getting to his man in round 8, and dropping Fuzile twice to force a stoppage.
After the win over Fuzile controversy emerged with Rakhimov's team accused of using illegal substances to help their man. The controversy took another turn with various things reportedly being found in his hotel room. Despite a protest from the IBF the result stood, and Fuzile became the mandatory for the IBF champion.
At the time that was Tevin Farmer, but Farmer would lose the title a few months later to Diaz, meaning Rakhimov became the mandatory to Diaz. After more controversy, with Diaz said to have owed Farmer a rematch, the IBF ordered a bout between Rakhimov and the new champion.
In the ring Rakhimov is a somewhat basic pressure fighter, though he brings his pressure behind deliberate footwork and an awkward southpaw stance. There's no bells and whistles with him and he's not the quickest, sharpest, or smartest. He is however a very strong fighter, with heavy hands, a real will to win and genuine hunger. He looks like the sort of fighter who can be outboxed, as we saw Fuzile do to him, due to his slow and deliberate footwork. However doing it for 12 rounds is a real test anyone's stamina and mental toughness. Getting into a fire fight with him is dangerous, especially with his sneaky body shots and nasty power, though he has been dropped more than once, and there are question marks around his chin.
Win or lose against Diaz we suspect the 26 year will be around the world title picture for the next few years. Rakhimov is young enough to come back from a defeat and certainly has the tools to be in some very interesting bouts. He's not the most natural boxer, but he is a very solid fighter, and that can often be enough to take someone to a world title. Saying that however Rakhimov will certainly be the under-dog when he steps in the ring against Diaz on February 13th.
Recently we reported that a WBA Light Flyweight world title bout, set to take place in May had been cancelled. That bout was supposed to see "Super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi defending his title against Indonesian challenger Andika "D'Golden Boy" Sabu (17-0, 8), a little known challenger who is regarded as one of the biggest hopes for Indonesian boxing.
Despite that bout being cancelled, at leats for now, it's worth talking about the unbeaten Indonesian, who was ranked #2 by the WBA when that bout had been put together. Despite having done very, very little to deserve his ranking.
"D'Golden Boy" was born Andika Fredikson Ha'e in October 1995. He was the 5th of 7 children and came from a modest family. He left he family home looking for work and followed his brother, going from Sabu to Waingapu for jobs. He did pretty much anything, from being a labourer to a bus conductor in the pursuit of the money needed to live.
Like many fighters from poor background Sabu found boxing and began his affair with the sport when attending the night market in Sumba. He had took part in the event, boxing for the first time, and saw the sport as a chance to change his life. He would catch the eye of a trainer who offered him the chance to practice the sport, something he accepted.
Despite having no reported amateur fights Sabu turned professional, joining up with the Mirah BC Bali, where he was trained by Yance Mandagie and Ahmad Mandar.
Sabu would make his professional debut in November 2014, and defeat the brilliantly named Don King Fortune in 2 rounds, himself a debutant. From there he was kept busy, with another fight in December and then 6 more in 2015 as he raced his record to 8-0 (3). Whilst some of his competition during this early stretch were fellow novices, others were more well known Indonesian domestic fighters, like Heri Amol, and guys like Ardi Tefa and Silem Serang, who had some international experience.
Given the lack of depth on the Indonesian scene Sabu would manage to continue climbing through the ranks with no issues, and continuing stringing together wins through 2016 and 2017. Sadly he was lacking a real test. It was hoped he'd step up but the wait was taking a while. Despite things being rather slow for Sabut he did manage to claim silverware in 2018, when he beat Faisol Akbar Jr for the KTPI Light Flyweight. That was his 15th straight win and saw him moving his record to 15-0 (8).
With a title around his waist Sabu, obviously, wanted more. He would get his second tittle fight just 7 months after claiming the KTPI title, beating Romshane Sarguilla for the WBA Asia Light Flyweight title, a title that lead to his WBA ranking. Sadly for Sabu the bout seemed to show up his flaws, with Sarguilla losing a razor thin technical decision, in Indonesian, to Sabu. Although not a big name Sarguilla is a really good test for prospects, and made the likes of Dave Apolinario and Pongsaklek Sithdabnij work hard to beat him.
The win over Sarguilla may have had some controversy, but it was a step in the right direction. Sabu would make another step when he returned to the ring, after an intensive training camp, and took on Richard Rosales. Rosales, a Filipino journeyman, had been in with a who's who and despite piling up losses was a solid test for fighters looking to move through the sport. Fighters like Jayr Raquinel and Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr had both been given good tests by Rosales.
Sadly the bout between Sabu and Rosales wasn't without incidents. In just the first round Rosales was cut from a headclash. The Filipino seemed in pain from it, but then seemed spurred on, trying to take Sabu out. Despite the aggression from the Filipino Sabu boxed smartly, looking like a genuine talent when he came forward with nice crisp punching and good speed. Sadly his defensive work seemed lacking and he was fortunate that Rosales was a wide puncher as several times Sabu seemed to be in trouble.
After 10 rounds Sabu would get the win, albeit a razor thin one, with scores of 96-95 and 97-96, twice, with all 3 judges being Indonesian judges. The step up seemed too much for Sabu, who showed nice touches, but seemingly had a lot of work still do, especially defensively.
The win over Rosales saw Sabu defending his WBA Asia title, but it showed he wasn't ready for a top opponent. It showed he needed time to develop. He was world ranked, but looked more like an emerging prospect than a fringe contender. His ranking opened up the opportunity to fight for a world title, which he would have done against Kyoguchi, but sadly for Sabu that would have looked like him being cashed our by promoter Daniel Martin.
We hope that Sabu does get a world title fight, but he needs more seasoning first. He struggled with Rosales and Sarguilla. Whilst there may have been issues in camp it's clear that he's still a work in progress and a world title bout needs too wait if he's to stand a chance of winning.
When we look at the world rankings we see a lot of names that don't really belong in any top 15, but somehow end up there. As we write this, on April 1st, we can go through the world rankings and see names like Mladen Miljas, Tom Schwarz and Mirko Geografo. Another of those names is Japanese fighter Kazuhiro Nishitani (21-4-1, 12).
We suspect many reading this have either no idea who Nishitani is, or even knew he was world ranked. In fact we suspect many, even in Japan, aren't too sure who the 33 year old from Hyogo really is. He is one of the more obscure Japanese Super Featherweight's, and if we're being honest we'd be be hard pressed to even put him in the top 10 Japanese fighters at 130lbs. Some how though the IBF have managed to squeeze him into the 10 in their Super Featherweight world rankings.
So for those wondering who Kazuhiro Nishitani is, we thought it was time to shine a light on one of boxing's most obscure world ranked fighters as part of our "Who are you?" series.
To begin with Nishitani is fighting out of Kobe, a small Japanese boxing market. He's further hampered, in some ways, by being promoted by Senrima Kobe Promotions, a small local outfit based in Hyogo. Whilst the promotional team have lead Teiru Kinoshita to two shots at the IBF Super Flyweight title, they are still a very small gym, in a very small market. They are miniscule compared to the likes of Watanabe, Teiken, Ohashi and even the smaller Osakan gyms like Green Tsuda and Osaka Teiken.
In Japan there are two main markets, Osaka and Tokyo. There are then other regional markets, but essentially if a fighter doesn't fight in one of those two, they tend to struggle for attention, with some like Kosei Tanaka being an exception to the rule in recent years. Hyogo being one of those much, much smaller markets.
Despite the low profile Nishitani has made a mark on the domestic scene and has been world ranked for quite a while, so lets look at how he got there, and how his career has been so far.
Given he's relatively unknown it's hard to believe Nishitani's been a professional for over a decade. He made his pro debut back in November 2009, and won his first 7 bouts, going 7-0 (2) on low key cards from 2009 to 2011. During that run of results the most notable win was a decision over Tsubasa Muramatsu.
In late 2011 Nishitani's unbeaten run came to an end when he went and fought in Osaka, losing to the unheralded Tetsuya Nishinaga. That was followed up but a loss in early 2012 to Yuhei Suzuki, who would later come up short in 3 Japanese title fights. Nishitani would rebuild from those 2 losses by scoring 7 straight wins, and advancing his record to 14-2 (7). Sadly though that form lead nowhere and things then went down hill, quickly, for Nishitani who won just 1 of his following 4 bouts, falling from 14-2 to 14-4-1 (7).
During that bad run of form Nishitani came up short to the then Japanese Lightweight champion Kota Tokunaga. He was competitive with Tokunaga, but lost quite clearly to the man making his second defense of the title. After a single quick win Nishitani got a second shot at the title, as he took on Shuhei Tsuchiya in 2017. Despite being dropped by Tsuchiya in round 5 Nishitani battled back hard and went on to stop Tsuchiya in the 8th round to claim the Japanese Lightweight title.
On paper the win over Tsuchiya should have shot Nishitani into some decent fighters. He was the Japanese Lightweight champion, he had just beaten the popular Tsuchiya at Korakuen Hall, live on G+. Sadly though he vacated the title, rather than defending it, and moved down in weight, from Lightweight to Super Featherweight.
Around 7 months after winning the title Nishitani would return to the ring and defeat the debuting Phruekphaibun Khanthusaeng in 2 rounds. What should have been a title defense was instead a blow out against an over-matched Thai. That was then followed by wins over Filipino domestic level fighters in the form of Rey Ramos, Glenn Medura and Monico Laurente.
Despite the limited competition Nsihitani is now riding a 6 fight winning. Despite not being the best fighter, he has proven to be tough, rugged, have a solid work rate and a fantastic will to win. Sadly though he lacks in too many other areas. He's not the most skilled, he lacks speed, he's very basic, and his technique is questionable at best. He can play a part in some fun domestic level bout fights, if matched with the right opponents, but it's hard to imagine him making any impact on a world class fighter.
With a small promoter behind him, along with his 33rd birthday, it's hard to imagine Kazuhiro Nishitani getting a world title fight. Despite that he can claim something few can, he has been a world ranked professional boxer. He might not be a world beater, but he can tell everyone he was a top 10 ranked fighter. Sadly though that ranking really does make a joke of the IBF and their questionable rankings.
Whilst we can hate on the IBF, and world title bodies, it's worth saying well done to Nishitani and his team for being so close to a world title fight. Saying that however the reality is that he is one of the many oddly ranked fighters, who has some how managed to get into, and remain in, the world rankings.
For those who want to see a little bit of Nishitani we have included video of his crowning glory, his win over Tsuchiya, sadly though there really isn't much other quality footage of him out there, which is a shame.
With no fights taking place at the moment we've decided that the show must go on and it'd be foolish to not continue to some of our many running series. With that mind let us bring you the next in our "Who are you?" series...a series that has been on a short hiatus, but really doesn't need to be halted any longer.
Today we'll be looking at heavy handed Filipino puncher All Rivera (21-4, 18), a huge punching fighter who's flawed, but fun to watch, like many punchers. He's never likely to make a mark on the world scene but at the regional level he is danger man and someone who could be involved in a lot of great fights when boxing returns later in the year.
Born in March 1993 All De Guia Rivera in Bonbon, North Samar River is certainly not someone we expect many fans to be too aware of. Despite that he's been a professional for close to a decade and has proven to be a bit of a glass cannon, and lots be honest glass cannons are great fun to watch!
Rivera debuted in August 2011, aged 18, and he was stopped in just 67 seconds. Despite the loss he was back in the ring just 2 months later, when he stopped Mark Paulo Minguillan in 3 rounds, having been dropped in round 2 before stopping Minguillan the following round.
After notching his first win Rivera wouldn't fight against for 7 months. When he did get back in the ring he scored his second win, stopping Avelino Ramos, and started to slowly create some momentum scoring 3 more wins in the following 7 months to end 2012 with a 5-1 (4) record. By then his debut loss was firmly behind him and although he was still fighting at a very low level he was moving in the right direction.
The quality of Rivera's opponents began to step up in 2013. They still weren't notable opponents but they went from novices to fighters with experience, like Roselito Campana and Ronals Postrano. Not only were the opponents stepping up, but so to was the scheduled length of his bouts, with Rivera's 8th bout scheduled for 10 rounds. He didn't need the rounds, due to his power, but was obviously expected to be able to manage the rounds if needed.
Sadly for Rivera a step up in 2014 proved to be too much as he was stopped in 7 rounds by the often over-looked Leonardo Doronio. Going in to that bout Rivera was 10-1 (8) whilst Doronio was 13-9-2 (8), but Doronio was experienced at a much higher level to Rivera and the result showed that difference. The loss served to be a blessing of sorts for Rivera who moved up in weight in 2015 and scored several notable wins. They included blowing out the experienced Mark Sales and taking the unbeaten record of Adones Cabalquinto, who was 21-0 at the time.
Having strung together a couple of good wins Rivera got his biggest bout to date, an OPBF title fight in Japan against Shinya Iwabuchi. On paper this looked like a tough, tough ask for Rivera on his international debut. In reality however he made it look easy, beating up, breaking down and bashing Iwabuchi into submission, stopping the popular Japanese slugger in 7 rounds. Rivera would then go on to defend his title, 9 months later, against Adones Cabalquinto in their second clash.
As we entered 2017 Rivera was racing away and had moved to 17-2 (15), he was a regional champion, he was looking exciting and was still only 23 years old. There was a lot to get excited about in regards to the Filipino and his future. He then travelled to Russia and battled Aik Shakhnazaryan, in what turned out to be a thrilling 12 round bout. The action seemed to be dictated, overall, by Rivera, who seemed to do enough for the decision. Sadly though Rivera would go on to lose a razor thin split decision to the Russian.
Rivera bounced back from the controversial loss to Shakhnazaryan by winning 3 bouts in a row at home before travelling off to the US last September. Sadly for Rivera he was stopped inside a round on his US debut by Malik Hawkins. The talented Hawkins was far too good, too sharp and too heavy handed for the Filipino, dropping him late in the opening round. It seemed like Rivera beat the count, but the bout was waved off regardless.
Since losing to Hawkins we've also seen Rivera fight once, defeating Rodel Wenceslao back in February for the GAB Welterweight title.
With potential fights at 140lbs or 147lbs there are some match ups out there for Rivera. Clashes with the likes of Rikki Naito, Alvin Lagumbay, Jayar Inson, Hiroki Okada or Yuki Beppu would also be great to see. Fingers crossed we do see at least one of those potential clashes when the sport returns later in 2020.
One of the great things about this "Who are you?" Series, at least for us writing them, is that there really isn't a limit on who we can cover, and whether we think they can win or lose their upcoming. The reality is that this is a chance to just shine a light on someone who isn't a prospect, look at their career, their style, their records and their achievements, without really being limited by how big of a name they are, or that they will become.
This week we look at someone who is a great example of hard work, dedication, and crafting a style that works for him. He's never going to be a world champion, but will always be a really good gate keeper, and someone who can test anyone over 12 rounds. Today we look at Lito Dante (17-11-4, 9), the man with one of the most misleading records in the entire sport.
The 20 year old Lito Dante is pretty much a 10 year veteran as we write this, and with 32 on his ledger he's a genuine young veteran. On paper he may look like a typical journeyman. A "win some, lose some" type of fighter, but the reality is he is so much more than that. He is a world level journeyman, he is one of the most rugged and mentally challenging fighters in the sport. He's technically not the best, but everyone will have problems with his toughness and tenacity.
Lets rewind! Dante made his professional debut in 2010 as a 20 year old. He would go unbeaten in his first 6 bouts, running up a 3-0-3 record before back to back losses to Louie Arlos and Raymond Tabugon in 2012 saw him fall to 3-2-3 after 8 bouts. Although Dante stopped the rot, with a TKO win over Gilbert Magos, he struggled to build momentum due to another loss, this time to Michael Enriquez.
After his unbeaten 6 fight start Dante had quickly dropped to 4-3-3 (1) and seemed unlikely to make any sort of a mark on the sport. Even when he managed to build some moment, though 2013, with a trio of wins the momentum was killed the following year, with a loss to Richard Barrios.
The loss to Barrios was followed by 11 months out of the ring for Dante, who returned to stop Dexter Dimaculangan and then beat Oliver Gregorio just weeks later, taking his first 10 round decision win. Once again just as he started to build momentum he would suffer another loss, losing in South Africa to Siyabonga Siyo, in what was not only Dante's first 12 round fight but also his first bout outside of the Phlippines.
The loss to Siyo saw Dante fall to 9-5-3 (5), and it was the fourth time he had lost a decision to an unbeaten fighter. Despite the loss Dante's hunger didn't fade, and 4 months later he won the LuzProBA Minimumweight title by taking a decision over Lester Abutan. That was Dante's first title win and the perfect way for him to end 2015.
To kick off a very busy 2016, in which Dante fought 5 times, he stopped Junel Lacar in 4 rounds before facing future world champion Vic Saludar for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title. Dante came up short to Saludar, who was fighting for the first time since losing to Kosei Tanaka in a WBO world title fight, but became the first fighter to survive 10 rounds with Saludar, something he would beat in 2017. In his third bout of 2016 Dante travelled to Japan and gave the then touted Takumi Sake fits, before the bout was curtailed in round 4, resulting in a technical draw. Just weeks later Dante would be in the ring and would stop Jaysever Abcede, becoming the first fighter to stop the gutsy "Lion Hearted". The year would however end with another loss, as Dante lost a close technical decision to Jesse Espinas.
In 2017 we not only had Dante go 10 rounds with Vic Saludar again, something he did in December, but also notch one of his better wins, defeating Jay Loto over 12 rounds for the WBC International title. Sadly though he couldn't build on the win over Loto as that was followed, just 3 months later, by a loss in South Africa to Simpiwe Konkco, in an IBO world title fight.
Dante came into 2018 on the back of his second loss to Vic Saludar and didn't have the start to the year he would have wanted, losing a technical decision to Tibo Monabesa, when Monabesa was cut from a clash of head. Despite the back to back losses Dante would go on to beat Naoya Haruguchi in Japan, taking his first win on international soil in his fifth bout outside of the Philippines.
Following on from the win over Haruguchi we would see Dante return to Japan and score his biggest to date on March 31st 2019. He had travelled over to Yokohama to take on OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura. Koura, then 14-0, was expected to move on to a world title fight later in the year but Dante ripped up the script completely and pressed Koura, out boxing him, out fighting him, and then, mid way through round 12, stopped him. Dante had not only gone over to Japan, but had battered their rising star to claim the Oriental title, and put himself in the world rankings.
More than 8 months after his massive win over Koura we saw Dante return to Japan, looking to make it a hat-trick of wins in the country, but lose a clear 6 round decision to talented youngster Yudai Shigeoka. The highly skilled Shigeoka, fighting for the second time as a professional, used his speed and movement to out box, out think, out speed and out skill Dante, and made the most of the shorter distance of the bout. It was a brilliant bit of match making from Shigeoka's team, who knew that the win over the OPBF champion would massively enhance his standing, but also be a good test.
To begin 2020 Dante took on Indonesian Sulis Barrera, and battered Barrera into submission in 2 rounds, dropping him from a barrage of body shots.
Next for the Filipino, we suspect, is a return to Japan to take on Masataka Taniguchi. The bout will not only be Dante's first defense of the OPBF title he won last year, but also be for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight title, giving the bout really big stakes. The bout was announced for the middle of March, but is expected to be postponed until the JBC lift's their suspension on professional boxing activity in Japan.
In the ring Dante isn't the best, he's not the most skilled, he's not the biggest puncher, or the quickest, or the most accurate. What he is, however, is a nightmare. He's really physically strong, scarily so for a Minimumweight, he's insanely tough, and he's mentally durable. If he doesn't have early success that's not a major problem to him, he just keeps coming. He's defensively smart, though knows he can get away with errors due to his toughness, offensively smart, delivers wicked body shots and is a physical monster. To beat him you need to either have excellent speed or stamina, or hope your fighting over a short distance.
Dante's fights can be ugly, real ugly, and he has 3 technical decisions on his record but ugly or not he will always be a handful, for anyone.
The Japanese domestic title scene is an interesting one, with a mix of fighters ranging from emerging hopefuls like Shuichiro Yoshino and Koki Inoue to a former world title challenger, such as in the case of Keita Obara. Others are less well known, and some are very unlikely to ever make their name on the international stage. One such fighter is today's subject of our "Who are you?" series.
The Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10), who defends his title this coming weekend, is not someone we expect many fans to know much about, but in fairness he is someone who deserves a lot more attention than he gets. During his 17 fight career he has proven to be fun to watch, aggressive, strong, powerful and a tough guy to beat. Sadly though he's now 32 and unlikely to reach a higher level, however we are going to enjoy every fight he has going forward.
Matsunaga debuted in July 2012 as a Welterweight fighting out of the Yokohama Hikari gym, the gym he has remained with right through his career. On debut he took an opening round win over Takumi Matsuda on a Dangan card. It would be almost 5 months until he returned to the ring and scored his second win, taking out Mamoru Takeuchi in 3 rounds.
Sadly Matsunaga's career during these early bouts was frustrating, and full of lengthy gaps. His third bout came 7 months after his second, and saw him defeat future Japanese Welterweight challenger Makoto Kawasaki. Then he was out for a year.
Thankfully in June 2014, when Matsunaga returned, he was put in the Rookie of the Year, and was able to be active, with 4 bouts in 6 months, the type of activity his career really needed. His first bout of the year was a blow out win against Kenichi Kamada, that was followed by a second decision win over Makoto Kawasaki before a decision over Masaya Tamayama in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final. That run of wins lead him to the All Japan final where he clashed with the destructive Yuki Beppu.
Sadly for Matsunaga the power and aggression of Beppu proved to be too much at that stage, and Beppu would stop Matsunaga in the second round, ending Matsunaga's 6 fight unbeaten run to begin his career. Given that Beppu has since gone on to win the WBO Asia Pacific title this is a really interesting bout from an historical stand point, with both Beppu and Matsunaga later going on to bigger and better things, and shows that even fighters who fail to win Rookie of the Year can go on be successes.
Around 5 month after losing to Beppu we saw Matsunaga move up to Light Middleweight for the first time, and defeat Middleweight Rookie of the Year winner Hisao Narita. That win was followed 7 months later with Matsunaga moving down in weight and scoring a stoppage win over Shiro Saito, in what was Matsunaga's last bout as a Welterweight.
After repeated lengthy breaks 2016 seemed to be a potential break out year for Matsunaga. He kicked the year off by moving back to Light Middleweight and beating Hiroshi Ohashi over 8 rounds in March. This was followed up just 2 months later with a win over former Japanese Middleweight champion Sanosuke Sasaki. Then came a huge fight for Matsunaga as he travelled over to South Korea and beat Je Ni Ma for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title.
The bout with Ma was a notable one in a number of ways for Matsunaga. It was his first bout outside of Japan, it was his first bout scheduled for 12, his first title bout and the first time he fought in an outdoor ring. He dropped Ma in round 3, and seemed like the clear winner, though one judge some how had Ma winning 115-112.
Sadly with 3 wins in 2016, a title under around his waist and momentum building Matsunaga was then out of the ring for 13 months! Part of that was, sadly, a bout with Ryota Yada falling through in May 2017 when Matsunaga had to pull out of the scheduled bout. On his eventual return he faced Thai foe Suchat Chaiyaporn and made light work of the Thai, stopping him in 3 rounds, on a live televised Japanese show. Given the long break we understand the low level opponent, but this was frustrating, to see a fighter winning a regional title then being in a bout like this.
A visit to Thailand 5 months later saw Matsunaga stop Patomsuk Pathompothong, aka Komsan Polsan, in 4 rounds to take his second win on foreign soil. This was a much better test than the one over Chaiyaporn, which was clearly done to shake some ring rust from the Japanese fighter after the inactivity. To end the year we saw Matsunaga finally get the big break out win he needed, stopping perennial Japanese title challenger Koshinmaru Saito to earn a Japanese title fight at the 2019 version of the Champion Carnival. This loss sent Saito into retirement and put Matsunaga in position for a Japanese title fight in 2019.
On July 10th 2019, almost 7 months after earning his Japanese title shot, Matsunaga finally got a crack at the title as he took on Japanese Light Middleweight champion Nobuyuki Shindo. Shindo, a tall, rangy and awkward southpaw, was under pressure from Matsunaga almost from the off, and retired in his corner after the 6th round, as he had began to take a bit of a battering from the challenger. Matsunaga had had trouble at times with the size difference, but when he started to cut the distance Shindo had no answer to his aggression, his pressure and his strength.
Aroudn 6 months after winning the belt Matsunaga made his first defense, stopping Koki Koshikawa in an exciting 4 rounder. Koshikawa, a former amateur standout, had moments but was broken down and then battered in rounds 3 and 4 before being saved by the referee.
Matsunaga was pencilled in to defend his title on March 7th against mandatory challenger Yuto Shimizu, though that bout has now been postponed indefinitely due to the JBC's suspension on boxing in regards to Coronavirus. Despite the postponement, we do expect the bout to take place later in the year.
As is usually the case Matsunaga will be giving away height, but the aggressive little southpaw warrior will be the favourite against the tough and awkward Shimizu. A win there will potentially open up a unification bout with regional title holds Takeshi Inoue and Akinori Watanabe, both of which would be really exciting match ups.
Although not a big name Matsunaga is an exciting fighter, and someone who deserves a lot more attention than he gets. His reign isn't likely to be a long one, given he's 33 in September, but it will certainly be an exciting one.
Korean boxing is in an interesting position right now. It lacks in terms of stars, though both Hyun Mi Choi and Ye Joon Kim are pretty solid fighters and Choi is certainly marketable in Korea whilst Kim has the potential to make a mark in the fringes of world level, if he stays active. Despite the lack of top tier talent the country is developing some really interesting and exciting fighters. One of those is this week's focus for our "Who are you?"
We don't expect many fans to know who Jae Woo Lee (7-2, 6) is, in fact until last year he hadn't fought out side of Korea, but in just a single bout away from home he made a statement, and made us, along with others, sit up and take not. We'll get on to that bout a little later, but lets look at little more at the early part of Lee's career.
Lee made his debut way back in 2012 as an 18 year old and lost a decision to Boon Joon Suk. Just 3 months after his debut defeat Lee picked up his first win, stopping Woo Jin Yang inside a round. Sadly his win wasn't the start of some great run and he would suffer his second loss in his next bout, 8 months later, losing a close decision to Dong Hoon Yook.
With a 1-2 record after 3 bouts it would have been easy to write Lee off, that would have been a mistake. Just a month after Lee had lost to Don Hoon Yook, he moved his record to 2-2, stopping Jae Joon Hyun, and a month later he was 3-2, stopping Yun Joon Kim. Lee would add another win soon afterwards to move to 4-2, as he stopped Jong Won Won.
Sadly, though as is typical with Koren fighters, Lee then took a lengthy absence from the ring, not fighting for over 4 years until returning in 2017. By then his moment had vanished. His promise had been forgotten and few really seemed to have any expectations on Lee's shoulders when he returned When he returned he faced off with the tough Yong Hwan Jun, who actually won the KBM Welterweight title last year. Despite being the much smaller man Lee out worked and out fought Jun to earn an excellent and decisive decision, in a win that has aged excellently for Lee.
Sadly after beating Jun, in what was Lee's only decision win, he was out of the ring for 6 months. On his return he he fought for the KBM Featherweight title against Hyun Je Shin and for once Lee was in with someone who seemed to really know what he was doing, countering Lee, popping his jab in his face repeatedly and controlling the distance. This was a really tough bout for Lee who seemed unable to pull the trigger at times. As the bout went on though Lee managed to finally get his shots flowing and in round 10, whilst down on the cards, Lee's power finally paid dividends, knocking out a tired Shin with just over a minute of the bout left. This was a truly brutal finish and a great come from behind win.
Despite the win over Shin we again saw Lee being unable to build on his momentum, suffering an injury that ended up keeping him out of the ring for over a year.
On Lee's return to the ring, more than 20 months after he'd beat Shin, we saw the Korean make his international debut, travelling to Japan to take on the hard hitting Tsuyoshi Tameda at Korakuen Hall. The bout, which was part of the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament, was expected to be a straight forward win for the well regarded Tsuyoshi. Instead we got a 3 round shoot out, that ended with Lee breaking down Tameda, who was bloodied and battered by the time the referee stepped in.
On February 27th we'll see Lee back in the ring, as he takes on Japan's Shungo Kusano in one of the semi final bouts of the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament. If he wins he'll be up against either Richard Pumicpic or Daisuke Watanabe in the final later in the year, in what would be a huge bout for the Korea, who was once 1-2.
At the age of 26 Lee is still young enough to make a mark on a much bigger stage. If he wins the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament we suspect we'll see him in a regional title bout in the near future and, with some luck, move into the world rankings. We don't see him ever winning a world title, but given his styles, toughness, power and aggression he's someone that fight fans globally deserve a chance to see. He's fun, and he's one of the few Korean fighter who has the potential to fight at regional level with actual success.
For those who haven't seen it, we've included the bout with Tameda below, thanks to KBM and Boxing Raise.
This coming weekend is an interesting one, with a lot of attention being put on a card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The main event of that card, the rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, is obviously the bout that everyone will focus on but before that we'll get a WBO Super Bantamweight title fight, as 23 year old Filipino Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16) takes on defending champion Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26). As if often the case with Filipino fighters making their debut in the states, the question is "Who is Jeo Santisima?" Or as we like to ask "Who are you? Jeo Santisima"
Obviously, as mentioned, Santisima is a 23 year old Filipino fighter with a couple of losses to his name and really no recognition on the international stage. He is however someone who Filipino fans have been talking about for a few years now, and we've seen him rebuild from a 2-2 start to becoming a legitimate contender, in one of boxing's most compelling divisions.
Like many Filipino fighters Santisima turned professional as youngster, in fact he was only 17 when he made his debut back in August 2013. He lost that bout, by decision, to Roniel Parcon at Featherweight, but bounced back just a month later by beating Filipino based Japanese fighter Takaomi Noma. A second win, just months late, saw him build some momentum before falling to his second defeat, losing to Marlon Arcilla at Bantamweight.
After just 9 months as a professional it would have been easy to write off the young Santisima, but he refused to write himself off, and he has since found his groove in the ring, built into his frame, and began fighting at his natural weight.
Given he was 2-2 after 4 bouts Santisima wasn't getting much attention, but slowly began to prove himself in the last half of 2014, before building up a head of steam in 2015 with 4 stoppage wins, including victories over Peter Apolinar and Alan Alberca, both of whom were 5-0, and the experience Jerry Nardo, then 21-8. Those wins saw Santisima begin to create quite a bit of buzz and go into 2016 with some momentum.
Things went from good to better for the youngster who scored 5 more stoppage wins in 2016, including stoppages over Marco Demecillo and Rex Wao. Those wins secured him a 5 year contract extension with ALA Promotions, who obviously saw him as a major part of their future. He was getting shots to shine on televised events, with his win over Junior Bajawa being one of the main events on an ALA show and his win over Terdchai Doungmontree coming on the under-card of a Nonito Donaire card.
To begin 2017 Santisima was surprisingly taken the distance by Indonesian journeyman Master Suro, ending a 10 fight T/KO run for the Filipino. Suro was dropped in round 6 but managed to survive the 10 round schedule in what was a televised bout on Pinoy Pride 40. Coming in to the bout the commentary team has been building up Santisima's power, and rightfully so, but Suro was super tough and not only showed Santisima couldn't blow everyone out, but that the Filipino youngster hard work to do on his stamina, work rate and shot selection.
Having gone 10 with Suro we expected Santisima to have to work for subsequent victories, but instead he blew out the previously unbeaten Goodluck Mrema, in 78 seconds, and Kichang Kim, in 56 seconds. He then needed only 3 rounds to beat Thai foe Yodsingdaeng Jor Chaijinda, aka Likit Chane, to claim the WBO Oriental Super Bantamweight title. That was the first title he won, and 5 months after winning it he defended it, for the first time, in the toughest bout of his 17 winning round. That bout saw Santisima going 12 hard fought rounds with Mexican tough guy Uriel Lopez. It was a clear win for the Filipino, but a very hard fought one, that saw Santisima needing to prove his toughness, engine and will to win, against an opponent who simply refused to be stopped.
Sadly since the gut check against Lopez we've not really seen Santisima prove himself. He stopped the poor Alvius Maufani inside a round and then stopped the once talented, but by then very faded and naturally much smaller, Rene Dacquel. On paper the win over Dacquel was good, but in reality it was against a man who was at his best 2 divisions lower, had been stopped in his previous bout and was more than 2 years removed from his last win, at Super Flyweight.
In the ring Santisima is a big Super Bantamweight, powerfully built and a heavy body puncher. He is however someone who fights in spurts, throws a lot of round shots, and although heavy handed his shots can be seen coming and can be ridden. Defensively he's open to counters during his bursts of shots and even when he's not in aggressive mode his hands still drop, he's there to be hit and will be hit by someone like Navarrete.
Do we give him a chance against Navarrete? Well yeah, there's always a chance, but it's a slim one and he is really up against it against here.
(Image courtesy of ALA Boxing)
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.
On February 8th in we see Mongolian fighter Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9) get his biggest fight to date, as he takes on WBC Featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr (30-1, 18) in Pennsylvania. Fans who who don't follow the depths of boxing are unlikely to know much about Nyambayar ahead of his big bout this weekend, so we've decided that the Mongolian will be the latest fighter covered in our "Who are you?" series. A series that tries to shine a light on a fighter ahead of a notable bout.
To begin with, the basics. Nyambayar is an unbeaten Mongolian fighter, who is currently 27 years old and has been a professional for close to 5 years. He turned professional with a lot of expectations on his shoulders but has had a stop start professional career due to hand issues, which have prevented him from reaching the top of the sport as quickly as some had anticipated.
The reason Nyambayar was expected to be fast tracked was due to his amateur pedigree, was was genuinely excellent. He claimed a national title back in 2009, then added a Bronze medal from the Asian Games and a silver medal from the World Championships as he began to explode on the international amateur scene. That amateur success bread more success, including a Silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Unlike many who medalled in London Nyambayar didn't rush to the professional ranks and actually continued in to the amateurs to 2014, picking up Mongolian national titles in 2013 and 2014 but failing to make it to the medal stages of major international tournaments.
Nyambayar also had mixed success in the WSB, going 3-2 in the semi-professional league. Interestingly his final WSB bout, which came in 2011, saw him lose to Frenchman Nordine Oubaali, who currently holds the WBC Bantamweight title.
In 2015, Nyambayar finally began his professional journey signing with advisor Al Haymon and trainer Joe Goosen, who seemed to be immediately impressed with the Mongolian hopeful. To begin with it seemed like a match made in heaven and Nyambayar was active through 2015, racking up 4 wins in his first 9 months as a professional, including an impressive stoppage against Arturo Badillo. His consistent level of activity continued in 2016, when he added 3 more wins, again all by stoppage, including a stoppage of German Meraz.
Sadly after racing to 7-0 (7) in just 21 months Nyambayar's career has really faltered and he has fought just 4 times since the start of 2017. Whilst those bouts have been at a higher level, with bouts against the then unbeaten Harmonito Dela Torre and former interim world champions Oscar Escandon and Claudio Marrero, the activity has been a real problem for a man who has been banging on the door of a world title fight. In fact he became the mandatory for the WBC title over a year ago and hasn't fought since!
Whilst some of that activity has been down to waiting for the WBC to order the fight with Gary Russell, a fight that will take place on February 8th, he has also suffered some nasty hand injuries. Those injuries saw him need to take a break between May 2018, when he beat Oscar Escandon and January 2019, when he faced Claudio Marrero. The waiting for the WBC and Russell Jr also saw plans being scrapped for an August 2019 bout.
Although not a big name Tugstogt Nyamabar is a top Featherweight contender, and someone who will look to put his name on the boxing map when he faces Russell Jr in their eagerly anticipated world title clash. He's heavy handed, technically well schooled, physically strong and a man on the hunt to become the second ever Mongolian world champion.
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