On February 14th we'll see Filipino slugger Froilan Saludar (31-3-1, 22) make his first defense of WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title as he takes on fellow puncher Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4, 11) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this isn't a bout that we expect to see a lot of international attention, but with both men possessing serious power there is a real chance this could end up being a bit of a sleeper classic.
Saludar's career has been an odd one. He was once tipped as a future star of the Filipino scene, before suffering a loss in his 21st bout, when he was taken out by McWilliams Arroyo in a world title eliminator. He would later come up short against Takuma Inoue and then lose in a world title fight in 2018 against Sho Kimura. Those losses essentially saw him being written off, and he'd gone from 19-0-1 (12) to 28-3-1 (19). Since then however he has quietly rebuilt, with 3 T/KO wins, including a spectacular one of unbeaten Japanese hopeful Tsubasa Murachi last September to win the WBO Asia Pacific title.
Early in his career many in the Philippines touted Saludar as a future star. So far his career has fallen short, a long way short, but at 30 years old his career is certainly not over. He's now more mature than he was younger, a little less bouncy and less wasteful in terms of energy, though there does still seem to be a bit too much wasteful movement in his work. He's never had the greatest of engine, but seems to use his experience more to hide that, moving more intelligently and occasionally "old manning" his way through rounds. It's not the most exciting thing to see, but given how exciting he is when he lets his hands go it's certainly not a bad game plan for the "Sniper", who has shown he can strike at any moment. It's that experience that also helps Saludar defensively and he's certainly looking like a man who rides shot better now than he did just a few years ago.
The 33 year old Fukunaga is a bit of an unknown if we're being honest. His record suggests he's a monster puncher with 11T/KO's from 11 wins but the quality of those wins is relatively low. His best win to date came in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, against Kota Fujimoto, and since then he has really not done anything of note. In fact since his triumph in the All Japan Rookie of the Year Fujimoto is 3-2 (2), though the two losses have come to good competition in the form of Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart, both in competitive bouts.
Despite his relatively weak wins Fukunaga does actually look to be a pretty solid boxer-puncher, albeit one with questionable defense. He moves forward looking to fire off his stiff jab and uncork his thunderbolt of a southpaw left hand. Defensively his hands are lower than they should be, but he seems to be trying to draw mistakes out of his opponents, and opening them up for counter shots with his head movement. Against the low level opponents he's been taking out it's a tactic that has worked, but against the better fights, such as the ones that have beaten him in recent years, it's not been as effective.
We certainly believe that Fukunaga has the power to hurt Saludar if he lands clean. Sadly for Fukunaga we don't see him landing too much clean, and would expect Sauldar to have the tools to out box him. In fact we wouldn't be surprised if Saludar saw how 1-dimensional Fukunaga was and started lining him up for big counters of his own by the middle rounds, and stopping the challenger.
Fukunaga has a puncher's chance, of course he does, but that is pretty much all he has, from what we've seen. Our prediction is a Saludar win, inside the distance, likely from a big overhand right in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO6 Saludar
Over the last few years we've seen more and more Japanese fighters being fast tracked to their first professional titles. The likes of Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka have obviously gained a lot of attention due to the way they've become multi-weight world champions in very few fights, but other fighters like Ginjiro Shigeoka have also gone on to quickly win regional titles as they look to make a mark and take a huge step, very early on.
The next Japanese fighter looking to make their mark within just a handful of fights is Tsubasa Murachi (4-0, 3), who will look to become the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion this coming Saturday, when he takes on former world title challenger Froilan Saludar (30-3-1, 21). For Murachi the bout is a huge chance to make a massive statement at the age of 22 whilst the 30 year old Saludar will get the chance to remain relevant, though will know a loss here likely ends his hopes of getting a second world title fight.
Of the two men it's Saludar who is, by far, the more well known. The Filipino debuted in 2009 and began his career with a 19-0-1 (12) record. By that point he was being tipped as a future world champion and looked like he had all the tools to go a long, long way. Sadly however a 2nd round TKO loss to McWilliams ended his unbeaten record and since then he has gone 11-2 (9). On paper that looks good, but in reality he has struggled when he's fought above Filipino domestic level with losses to Arroyo, Takuma Inoue and most recently Sho Kimura.
Despite his high profile losses Saludar is a fighter who generally passes the eye test. He moves around the ring well, fights confidently and has got decent power. He gave Inoue a decent fight through 7 rounds, though was dropped in rounds 8 and 9 as the Japanese fighter ran away with the win in the end, and also gave Kimura a decent fight before Kimura's pressure broke him in the middle rounds. There is flashes of real talent, but all too often that talent hasn't shown it's self for more than a few moments in his biggest fights.
Murachi on the other hand is unknown outside of the hardcore Japanese viewing fans, and even those may not have seen much of him. The 22 year old debuted in May 2018 following a 32 fight amateur career. In the amateurs he never really looked like a major star of the future, but when he turned professional it was pretty notable news for the gym he was turning over with, who seemed to know he had the potential to be moved aggressively. Although they spotted his potential they matched him relatively easily over his first 3 bouts, before stepping him up earlier this year against Raymond Tabugon, an experienced Filipino that he nearly shut out over 8 rounds.
In regards to footage of Murachi all 4 of his professional bouts are available on the Boxing Raise service, and they all show slightly different traits to the fighter. Despite none of the performances being identical they all show a naturally talented boxer-puncher, who loves to attack the body, has a cocky confidence and throws crisp combinations. He's a fighter who likes to fight at mid-range, likes to bring pressure and likes to throw short but sharp combinations. Offensively he's talented but defensively there are flaws, and he does just step back in straight lines a little too often for our liking and his guard does drop a little low at times.
This bout could see Murachi being punished for his defensive flaws for the first time, and Saludar certainly has the power to sting him when he lands, however we suspect the clean combinations of Murachi and natural size advantage will be the key. Saludar is a natural Flyweight whilst Murachi a big Super Flyweight and that, we suspect, will be the key.
We're expecting that the pressure and clean punching of Murachi will eventually wear down the Filipino for a late round stoppage.
Prediction - TKO10 Murachi
When you have a champion like Amnat Ruenroeng who would make anyone look bad with his combination of skill, speed, experience and confidence, it's fair to say that there's not going to be a line of fighters queuing up to face him. Despite that the IBF won't allow their title to just sit on the side as it did when it was held by former champion Moruti Mthalane who defended it just 4 times in 3 years.
With that in mind they've already set up a very interesting an eliminator for June 19th between the unbeaten Froilan Saludar (19-0-1, 12) and former amateur world champion McWilliams Arroyo (14-1, 12), the winner of which is set to face Ruenroeng later this year in what promises to be yet another interesting fight for the outstanding Thai.
Of the two men the one we're more interested in is, of course, Saludar who is a Filipino fighter that has often been regarded as the best natural talent in the Philippines for a generation. With sharp counter punching, lightning speed and vicious delivery to both head and body Saludar deserves his very accurate moniker of "The Sniper" though at times he's had to shown more to his game than just powerful counter punching. He's sometimes, like compatriot Nonito Donaire, struggled to force the fight but like Donaire his potent shots really are fight ending when they land clean and he has that killer instinct that knows when to strike.
Sadly Saludar's career has fallen into the doldrums a bit in recent years and many were tipping him to become a star 3 or 4 years ago before he ran into issues and was forced to spend more than a year out of the ring. Those issues and difficulties however are now well behind him and he's managed to stack in 3 fights in the last 9 months giving him an opportunity to shake off any ring rust and get back into the swing of things. Although 2 of his 3 recent contests have gone the distance they seemed to be fought with the intention of trying new things against significantly bigger men rather than just trying to finish equally sized fighters off. As a result of those 3 bouts Saludar has racked up 22 of his career 87 rounds.
In Arroyo we have a man who was earned marked as a potential world champion as soon as he turned professional. He was viewed by many as the natural successor to Juan Manuel Lopez and Miguel Cotto as the future of Puerto Rican boxing, alongside his twin brother McJoe Arroyo. Unfortunately for him the hype didn't really help him and in his 4th professional fight he was upset by Japan's Takashi Okada.
Since the loss to Okada we've really seen McWilliams improve fight after fight. He has shown tremendous power stopping 9 of his subsequent 11 opponents, he has also shown a great level of maturity, as seen in his 10 round decision win over Luis Maldonado. Offensively he's great with speed, power and great punch selection. Defensively however there are real question marks over McWilliams. In the loss to Okada he was dropped in the second round and in fights since he has been caught with more shots than he should have been caught with.
Although both go about it differently they both have the same mentality of stopping opponents. Though for this bout they will be trying to do it against a significantly better opponent than either has faced so far. Being at home it may be that McWilliams has a slight edge though stylistically we do tend to favour the sharper Saludar who we think will make McWilliams pay for his some what loose defence. When Saludar catches an opponent clean it can be lights out and that needs to be on the mind of everyone going in to this bout.
One interesting thing to note about this bout is not just that both men are stepping up a class but it's easily being their biggest fight to date and a major stepping stone to a huge fight later this year. That of course brings pressure with it and the question as to who wins could well be a case of who ever manages to deal with the pressure the best, predicting who does that is always a very difficult call.
Note-This fight will be televised in the US on Fox Sports 1
(Image courtesy of http://www.tcpr.com)
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.