On December 3rd we'll see a new Japanese Minimumweight champion being crowned as Masataka Taniguchi (12-3, 7) gets his second shot at the domestic title, and faces the unheralded Hizuki Saso (12-6-2, 4), in what will be his first title bout of any kind. Amazingly the bout comes almost 11 months to the day since Norihito Tanaka vacated the belt, ahead of his world title bout with Knockout CP Freshmart, and more than 8 months after Taniguchi was supposed to face Lito Dante for the belt, back in March.
Despite the lengthy gap between bouts for the title we can't help but be excited about this one, as it really does look set to be much, much better than the record of the two men suggest.
Of the two fighters it's fair to see Taniguchi will be the clear favourite, and with good reason. The Watanabe gym fighter is a former amateur standout who seemed destined for success when he turned professional in 2016. In his early professional bouts he looked fantastic, with speed, power, skills and a good ring IQ, and in 2017 he got his first title bout, losing a razor thin majority decision to Reiya Konishi for the Japanese Minimumweight title. Due to how close that loss was, in Konishi backyard as well, Taniguchi's career didn't really suffer and just 7 months later he got his second title bout, facing Tsuabasa Koura for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Once against Taniguchi came up narrowly close, losing a majority decision to Koura.
Thankfully for Taniguchi things did fall in place for him in 2018 when he claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Miunimumweight title, with a unanimous decision win over Filipino Joel Lino in Thailand. That win was followed by some wrangling over Japanese rules before Taniguchi fought Vic Saludar for the WBO world title, losing a clear decision to the big punching Filipino. Since that loss we've only seen Taniguchi fighting once, though that was a notable win in a Japanese title eliminator against the big punching Kai Ishizawa, in what was a legitimate barn burner.
In the ring the 26 year old Tanigcuhi is a fantastic fighter. He's skilled, he knows how to keep things long, has solid power, he's tough and he has the amateur background to fall back on. Two of his 3 losses could easily have gone his way, and against Vic Saludar he found out he wasn't ready for world level, just yet. Sadly though he his record paints the picture of a limited fighter, with losses in 20% of his career bouts, not a number that's actually reflective of his talent and he's much better than his record suggests. He's probably the best 12-3 fighter in the sport, and could just as easily be 14-1 at this point. Despite being talented he's not someone who has responded well to power, and at times he seemed intimidated by Saludar, who's stiff shots made Taniguchi think twice, and he was dropped by Ishizawa in their amazing 2019 clash.
When it comes to Hizuki Saso it's fair to say a lot less is known about the 25 year old, despite the fact his professional career dates back to 2015 and he has more professional bouts than Taniguchi. The youngster from Kanagawa has been a professional since 2013 and suffered his first loss in 2014. Notably his second loss came in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final to Tsubasa Koura and that started a bad run for Saso who quickly fell from 6-1 to 6-4-1, going win-less for more than 2 years.
The bad run for Saso saw him struggle to find his place in the sport and dip his toes at Light Flyweight whilst rebuilding his career, winning 6 of his following 8 bouts to rebuild to 12-4-1, and open up the opportunity for a title fight.
In the ring Saso is a tidy little boxer with a speedy and sharp jab, nice light movement and good body shots. Sadly though he lacks power, his work rate leaves something to be desired. From a physical stand point he doesn't seem the strongest or the most powerful, and he seems like the type of guy that could be bullied around rather easily by a decent, strong fighter, like Taniguchi. He also has questionable defense and in his last bout, against Yuni Takada, took a lot of clean shots, often when bending at the waist. In fact if we're being honest Saso was incredibly lucky to take home the win in that bout. He has nice skills, but they seem very unpolished, and like they need a lot of work for him to be ready for a title bout.
From what we've seen of both men it's hard to see a route to victory for Saso. He lacks the power needed to get Taniguchi's respect, like Ishizawa and Saludar, he lacks the work rate to out work him, and he lacks the physicality to try and bull him. As for Taniguchi this really is his fight to lose. He has the skills to outbox Saso, he has the power to hurt him, and he has the physicality to boss him around.
What we're expecting to see is Saso to show a lot of respect to Taniguchi early on. By round 3 or 4 however Taniguchi will have gotten the motor going and will be lining Saso up regularly with powerful straight left hands. When that happens it'll become less a competitive contest and more a test of how tough Saso is, and how brave his corner is. Sooner or later however Saso will be stopped.
Prediction - Taniguchi TKO6
The Watanabe show to end 2019 is a huge stacked card, with 6 title bouts in total, including 2 regional title bouts. The most interesting of the two, will see WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight champion Ginjiro Shigeoka (4-0, 3) taking a huge step up in class to take on Filipino challenger Rey Loreto (25-14, 17). For Shigeoka this will be his first defense, and a win will almost certainly see him being fast tracked to a world title fight in the new year. A win for the champion however, is not a given and Loreto has proven time and time again that he is not someone we should ever write off, despite his less than stellar record.
The 20 year old Japanese fighter is, along with his older brother Yudai, regarded as one of the best talented in Japan. He went 56-1 as an amateur, and has been fast tracked since turning professional, defeating Joel Lino in his third bout and Clyde Azarcon in his 4th bout, for the WBO Asia Pacific title. In the ring he's an aggressive, super sharp pressure fighter. He's one of the most naturally gifted young fighters in the sport today, and combines very high ring IQ, with brilliant balance, powerful punching and sensational movement. More problematic for opponents is that Shigeoka is a southpaw, adding yet another problem for every opponent to solve.
Of course there are questions that still need to be asked of Shigeoka before anointing him the next star of Japanese boxing. We don't know what his chin is like, we don't know what happens when he's under pressure, whether he can fight 12 rounds, and we don't know how he copes with a fellow southpaw, though we'll see that answered here against Loreto. For the first in his career Shigeoka is going up against someone who has proven himself as a a tough, thunder punching fighter, and we expect to see him being forced to answer a lot of questions, win or lose.
On paper Loreto has a journeyman's record, but in reality his record only tells a fraction of the story. The 29 year old Filipino began his career in 2008, as a teenager, and suffered 4 straight losses. He managed to turn things around, but struggled for consistency, and was 7-7 by the time he turned 20. From 7-7 Loreto struggled to get going, 4 of his following 5 to fall to 8-11 (4), but since then has been impressive, going 17-4 (13). Of course it's not all about the number, and Loreto has been scoring notable wins in recent years, beating the likes of Wisanu Por Nobnum, Pornsawan Porpramook and Nkosinathi Joyi, twice. That winning run lead Loreto to a world title fight in 2017, against WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart. Sadly for Loreto he lost to Knockout and has only fought twice since then, against very limited opposition.
Through his career Loreto has always proven to be tough, a massive puncher, and very dangerous. Technically he's fair crude, but strong and bull like, giving himself a chance to land counters when opponents open up. He can be out boxed, but he only needs to really land one shot to turn the fight around, as we saw in the first Joyi fight. At his best Loreto is a threat for anyone aside from the divisional elite, however with inactivity it's unclear what he'll offer.
If Loreto is 75% the fighter he once was he will be a threat through out the bout. Anything less than that and we suspect Shigeoka will make a huge statement and stop the Filipino, likely from body shots. If Loreto is at his best however, he stands a real chance of getting the upset. We suspect it'll be clear early as to what sort of mentality Loreto is in, and he has been given a lot of time to prepare for this, so he should be up for it.
We expect to see Shigeoka showing a bit more patience than usual, trying to figure out Loreto's southpaw stance, and being cautious early on. He'll keep the pressure on but do so with a higher guard than usual, keeping his defense tight and slowly chipping away at Loreto. He'll have to avoid the heavy return fire, but his reflexes so far have looked impressive and we suspect they will allow him to get in, an out, safely. It may only take one clean shot from Loreto to change the fight, but he still needs to land it clean, and that doesn't look like it will be easy to do against Shigeoka.
Prediction - UD12 Shigeoka
The 2020 Champion Carnival is slowly starting to come together and at the end of August we saw the Japanese title challenger decision bouts being announced. Before that announcement there was several already on the docket, including a Minimumweight eliminator between former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-3, 7) and hard hitting youngster Kai Ishizawa (6-0, 6), with the winner to get a shot in early 2020.
Of the two fighters Taniguchi is the much more proven and established. He's a former Japanese, OPBF and world title challenger and a former WBO Asia Pacific champion and has mixed with the likes of Reiya Konishi, Vic Saludar, Tsubasa Koura and Joel Lino. Before turning professional he was a solid amateur and was tipped for major success, but that success hasn't yet come. Notably he is still only 25, and despite the set backs through his career he still has time on his side, if he's still hungry enough to make the most of his talent. That hunger is however a big question and there is a chance that his losses have killed some of that desire to be a champion.
In terms of skill and style Taniguchi is an highly skilled boxer-puncher. Fighting out of southpaw stance Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who judges distance well, fights behind a sharp jab and has under-rated speed and movement. His work rate isn't the highest and he's not a KO puncher but he is a solid puncher with a decent work rate. In fact when we think about Taniguchi, he's solid in every area, without being excellent in any, which is what was shown when he faced off with Saludar earlier this year. He's never going to be one of the truly top fighters in the division, but will remain a constant threat in and around the regional title scene.
Ishizawa is a 22 year old who turned professional in 2017 without too much fan fare, following a rather uninspired 28-14 amateur record. Since turning professional however he has impressed, thanks to his heavy hands, aggressive styles and pressure fighting mentality. Early in his career there was questions about how he'd look when he stepped up, but he answered those questions with stoppage wins over Tatsuro Nakashima and Yuga Inoue in 2018. Those bouts both saw Ishizawa needing to answer questions about what happens when a fighter can take his power, and the Inoue bout in particular was a huge test against a stylistic nightmare, that he eventually broke down.
Despite impressive performances against the likes of Nakashima and Inoue this is still a massive step up for Ishizawa. He's a hard puncher with an exciting pressure style, but he's up against someone who is more experienced, has more to his game, hits hard himself and moves well. The key for Ishizawa is to get close and work inside, but against someone who controls distance like Taniguchi that is much easier said than done and he will have to take punishment to get inside.
We'd love to see Ishizawa win, due to loving his style and youth, but in reality we feel this bout may be coming a touch too early for him and his inexperience will be exposed. Taniguchi may have come up short in his biggest bouts but he is talented, and even in defeat he has shown a real gritty toughness and determination. We suspect that grit will see him through some tough moments against Ishizawa, before taking a clear win, possibly even a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
Earlier this year we saw Can Xu claim the WBA "regular" Featherweight title with a huge win over Jesus M Rojas. That win really put Xu on the map and gave Chinese boxing a massive shot in the arm. Since then he has defended the title once and kept momentum going in China, which has also seen see Wulan Tuolehazi put himself into the mix at Flyweight.
One other Chinese fighter looking to get a big break in the near future is Jing Xiang (16-4-2, 3), a talented fighter who has broke into the world rankings whilst making a name for himself at Light Flyweight. This coming Saturday he drops 3 lbs and heads to Minimumweight and takes on once beaten Filipino Jomar Caindog (10-1-1, 4) in a bout for the WBO International Minimumweight title, which will be held in Shenzhen.
The move to 105lbs is a smart one for Xiang, if he can make the weight comfortably. The 5'3" slickster is a natural talent, with incredible skills, but at Light Flyweight he was always going to be lost in the shuffle with so much depth in the division and even if he got a shot at a title, he would be a massive under-dog against fighters like Hiroto Kyoguchi and Kenshiro. At 105lbs however there is less talent, and he could certainly give the champions at the weight a run for their money, if not manage to dethrone them.
Looking at Xiang's record won't impress many, with just 16 wins in 22 bouts. It is worth noting however that he has turned around a 3-3 start to his professional career with a record of 13-1-2 in his last 16 bouts. It's also worth noting that his losses have come at Bantamweight, Super Flyweight and Flyweight, including a very early career loss to Jerwin Ancajas. In his last 16 he has scored notable wins over the likes of Ben Mananquil, Dexter Alimento, Merlito Sabillo and Kompayak Porpramook and certainly deserves a huge fight if he can continue this run of form.
During Xiang's current form we have been really impressed by his skills, and he doesn't fight like most Chinese fighters. He's a fighter who has a pure boxing style, he fights behind his, moves well, and counters brilliantly. His combinations are fantastic and whilst he lacks power he does find in defenses and lands a lot of shots. In terms of pure skills he is arguably the best in China.
Sadly not so much is known about Caindog, a Filipino who has almost no footage out there and has done little in his career far. Aged 24 he is coming into his physical prime but this is a massive step up in class for him. From his debut in June 2014 all his bout, so far, have been at home in the Philippines. Through his 12 bouts to date his competition hasn't been notable, at all, other than a then 2-0 Samuel Salva, who will fight for a world title in September. Salva beat Caindog over 6 rounds and the only other mark on Caindog's record was a 2018 draw with Lyster Jun Pronco.
Sadly, given the lack of footage,it's hard to say anything about Caindog's style but his competition so far suggests his team haven't got a lot of belief in him and a bout against Xiang looks like it's a case of "sink or swim" for him.
It can be hard to judge a fight without footage of one of the fighters. The reality here is that we know Xiang is very, very good, and if he can make 105lbs without any problems he's a handful for anyone in the division. We know about Xiang to suggest, confidently, that he'll be too good for a man who has been protected on the Filipino domestic scene.
There is a chance that Caindog is a diamond in the rough for the Filipino scene, but our guess is that he's not, and that he will be clearly beaten here by the skills and trickery of Xiang.
Prediction - TKO9 Xiang
In recent year's we've seen more and more Japanese fighters being put on the fast track to the top. The latest man to join the ever growing line of Japanese fighters to race to titles is highly regarded Watanabe prospect Ginjiro Shigeoka (3-0, 2), who returns to the ring this coming Saturday in an attempt to claim his first professional title, in just his 4th professional bout. The talented Japanese teenager won't be gifted a title, and instead will need to get through Filipino foe Clyde Azarcon (15-2-1, 5) as the two men battle for the currently vacant WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title.
Shigeoka is seen as the next star from the Watanabe Gym, which has given us a number of world champions in recent years like Takashi Uchiyama and Hiroto Kyoguchi. He was an excellent amateur, winning 5 high school crowns and losing just once in over 50 bouts, and even that loss was one that deserves an asterisks next to it. His amateur pedigree saw his debut becoming quite highly anticipated, and he lived up to the hype with an excellent win over Sanchai Yotboon last September. Since then he has added to his victories by beating Gerttipong Kumsahwat, who was really poor, and Joel Lino, a very decent Filipino.
Since turning professional Shigeoka really has had things almost all his own way. He's not had to work really hard, he's not been under any pressure from his opponents and instead he has been able to dictate everything. Whilst that does say something about his competition so far, it's worth noting that a win over Lino is genuinely impressive. His style, which is an aggressive one, is a calculated pressure style, he's strong, sharp, accurate, heavy handed and yet has a great boxing brain. He applies smart boxing, to an exciting style, and with Hiroto Kyoguchi in the same gym, he has an obvious mentor to try and replicate. On the subject of Kyoguchi, it's probably fair to say that Shigeoka is a better natural talent, and the key will be how he applies that natural ability. If he applies himself well, Shigeoka has the potential to be a major star of the future for Japan.
Of course a lot of the focus is on Shigeoka and his rise, but Azarcon is no push over. The 24 year old Filipino has been a professional for a little over 4 years and whilst he lost his second bout, losing a clear and wide decision to Junrel Jiemenz, he has since gone 14-1-1, with his only loss being a close one to the very talented Rene Mark Cuarto. Despite only suffering one loss in his last 16 there are a number of close bouts on his record, and it does seem very much like his lack of power is an issue at times, with Azarcon struggling to get opponents to respect him, despite often coming forward.
From the footage of Azarcon there he does look pretty aggressive and comes forward, but doesn't really have much sting on his shots or much crispness to his work. He's not bad, but seems to have a style that hasn't really been polished, and instead he looks rough around the edges, slapping his shots and not really fighting with a huge amount of intensity. It's likely his slapping style that has lead to his low stoppage rate, but there is possibly also a genuine lack of power, as well as the sloppy technique.
Although this is a step up for Shigeoka it's hard to imagine a fighter who lacks the pop to get Shigeoka's respect really testing him. Instead it seems more likely that Azarcon will start with some ambition, but it will be quickly beat out of him, and by the middle rounds the pressure and power of Shigeoka will begin to break him down. From there on it will be a case of "when" and not "if" Shigeoka can score an early win.
Prediction - Shigeoka TKO9
After a really hectic and busy May, with big fights on a consistent basis, notable action drops off massively in June with the first Japanese title fight taking place on June 13th. That bout sees Japanese Minimumweight champion Norihito Tanaka (18-7, 10) make his first, following his title win in January, as he takes on Naoya Haruguchi (15-10, 6). On paper this isn't a hugely interesting fight, but does have history behind it, as we'll explain in a moment.
The 34 year old Tanaka is a true veteran of the Japanese ring. He debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 fights before suffering 3 defeats in 4 bouts. Whilst that sounds bout it is worth noting that those losses included a decision to Kenichi Horikawa, in 2007, and a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi, two losses that on reflection are certainly aren't bad. He would bounce back with 3 wins before getting his first title fight, battling Akira Yaegashi for the Japanese Minimumweight title, and losing a wide decision. After that Tanaka fought twice, going 1-1, before taking a break of over 5 years. He resurfaced in 2017 and has since gone 4-2 (3) with notable wins against Takumi Sakai and Shin Ono in his last 2 bouts.
In the ring Tanaka had proven to be a smart, crafty, tough fighter with under-rated skills, a good boxing brain and respectable power. Tanaka isn't quick, by any stretch, but he has excellent time, lures opponents in and counters really well. Tanaka's smart boxing, accurate punching and experience makes him a very tricky fighter to look good against and beat. He's certainly not unbeatable, but is significantly better than his record suggests, and even in his 30's going to be hard to dethrone.
As mentioned Tanaka is 4-2 since his return in 2017. One of those losses was in an OPBF title fight to Tsubasa Koura in 2018, the other was in 2017 when he lost a majority decision to Naoya Hariguchi, the man he'll defend his title against. That loss came in the second bout of Tanaka's return and saw Tanaka losing a very close decision in Haruguchi's home city of Kagoshima City, this time the bout is Tanaka's home of Tokyo which could be a major factor.
Haruguchi is the younger man, at 29, but actually has just as many fights as Tanaka, with both having 25 contests to their name. His career began in 2012 and has been a rocky road. He lost on his debut, to Takumi Sakae, was 1--2 after 3 bouts and 3-4 after 7 contests. The inconsistent form of Haruguchi did look bad but it is worth noting that 2 of those losses came to Sakae, who would win the 2013 Rookie of the Year, and one was to Keisuke Nakayama, who later held the OPBF Flyweight title. As his career went on he would become a very clear "win some lose some" fighter, wiith his best run being a 6 fight winning streaking between 2016 and 2017. That winning run saw Haruguchi not only avenge one of his losses, to Jun Takigawa, but also score his win over Tanaka. Sadly however that run ended he has gone 1-3, with losses to Riku Kano, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Lito Dante, strange form for a man about to challenge for the Japanese title.
When it comes to watching Haruguchi footage is limited, partly due to him fighting mostly outside of the main Japanese boxing markets. What little footage is available of Haruguchi is several years old and comes from his 2015 loss to Reiya Konishi, where he was out worked by the then unbeaten Konishi. The take away from that footage is that Haruguchi was a crude fighter, who was easy to force back, defensively open and lacked any sort of sharpness in his punches.
Whilst Haruguchi beat Tanaka when they fought a couple of years ago we really don't see him being competitive here this time around. It certainly feels like he got the benefit of the doubt in their first bout, especially given he was dropped twice and still got the win, and won't be getting that in Tokyo. His form, with 3 losses in his last 4, also don't bode well coming into this bout.
We're expecting to see Tanaka finish off what he started, and this time we're expecting him to finish off Haruguchi, and retain his title in style.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO9
The Minimumweight division is a really strange one right now, that despite not being red hot has a lot of really interesting match ups that could be made, and a lot of interesting style match ups. One of the rising stars of the division is unbeaten Japanese fighter Tsubasa Koura (14-0, 9), the currnet OPBF champion and someone expected to be a future world champion. On March 31st he will make his 4th defense of the title as he takes on under-rated Filipino challenger Lito Dante (15-10-4, 7). On paper this looks a total mismatch, though in reality we suspect it will be a better than it looks on paper.
Looking at the records of the two men Dante will, clearly, be the under-dog. He's only won 15 bouts from 29 but the 29 year old should certainly shouldn't be ignored only because of his record. Since 2010 he has fought between Minimumweight and Flyweight and taken on a relative who's who of the lower weights. sharing the ring with the likes of Lester Abutan, Siyabonga Siyo, Vic Saludar, Takumi Sakai, Jessie Espinas, Simpiwe Konkco and Tibo Monabesa. No one has managed to stop Dante, who has proven to be tough and intelligent. He has also been able to score the occasional upsets, upsetting the likes of Lester Abutan, Jaysever Abcede, Jay Loto and Naoya Haruguchi.
As with most fighters who have got 30 fights under their belt Dante is a crafty fighter. He's not the sort of fighter who wow with flashy skills, but he will find holes, slip shots, and make things messy when he needs to. He lacks power but is accurate, intelligent and makes the most of what he has. His record might be that of a journeyman but he's not turning up to bouts to lose. He has taken rounds from the likes of Saludar, Espinas and Siyo through ring craft. He knows how to use the ropes to ride shots, knows how get his head involved when he needs to and really is a lot more frustrating than his record would suggest.
Of course the 24 year old Koura is expected to win, and we'd pick him despite feeling like Dante is being massively over-looked. We do however expect to see Koura being required to answer some questions that haven't been full answered yet. The champion, who is not only the OPBF champion but also a former Rookie of the Year win, is a fantastic fighter. Early in his career he looked to be a punch, but he has certainly developed into a more rounded boxer-puncher. He has started to realise he can't blast fighters out, and has instead gone 12 rounds twice, scoring wins over Masataka Taniguchi and Daiki Tomita, and showing real growth between those bouts. He's gone from being very aggressive early in his career to showing a sense of patience, countering, and adding more strings to his bow.
Through 14 fights Koura has beaten Jaffrey Galero, Masataka Taniguchi, Norihito Tanaka and Daiki Tomita and has really developed into a brilliant fighter, and is one of the leading contenders in the division. The fact he is still showing pretty clear improvements in fights is really exciting and a sign that he isn't sitting on his laurels, but is instead looking to fully prepare himself for a world title fight.
We don't expect the upset, it's not impossible but it would be a huge surprise. What we are expecting however is for Koura to show more than he's shown before. Dante is a frustrating fighter, he's an awkward fighter, he's a fighter who looks after himself. Koura will have to continue to show his patience, his mentality in the ring will be tested and how he breaks Dante down will be interesting. We're expecting a clear, and wide, decision to Koura, but he will have to work for it. Dante isn't unbeatable, but he is no walk in the park, despite his 10 losses.
The Minimumweight division recently saw a new IBF champion being crowned, as DeeJay Kriel scored a sensational last round KO win over Carlos Licona. Kriel will likely get the chance to make a voluntary defense next time out, though there are fighters sniffing around for a shot, and on March 23rd we'll get an eliminator between Filipino fighters Samuel Salva (16-0, 10) and Rene Mark Cuarto (16-1-1, 9). On paper this looks a really good bout, and with many of these all-Filipino eliminator level bouts it's worth a lot more attention that it will likely get.
On paper the more promising of the two fighters is the unbeaten Salva. He's unbeaten, appears to be the bigger puncher and has notable wins over Donny Mabao, twice, and Marco John Rementizo. Things however aren't that simple and overall it's Cuarto who has faced better competition, with his win over Clyde Azarcon being the best win either man has, and he also has a win over Ian Ligutan. It's also worth noting that Cuarto loss, and draw, both came to Jerald Paclar, who Cuarto stopped in their third and final meeting.
Footage of both men is available and Salva looks a powerful fighter, who throws nice, sharp hooks, good uppercuts and loads up on shots. Although Salva looks powerful he does seem somewhat inaccurate and there's an openness to his offensive work that could see him being countered right down the pipe but a skilled and confident fighter who sess the gaping holes when Salva throws. He's exciting but rough around the edges. The best quality footage of Cuarto is relatively old, but he does look a sharper, cleaner, more rounded fighter than Salva. There's less intensity to his work, but there is a more clean look to things from him and he certainly appears to set shots up better and have the more controlled footwork.
Both are young fighters, both are 22 years old, and whilst Minimumweights do mature quickly, often making their mark earlier than fighters in higher weight classes, both are very clearly developing as fighters and both have got years left of their careers.
A loss here isn't the end for either man. Cuarto knows that already, having gone 13-0-1 since losing more than 4 years ago, when he was just 18. Salva has never tasted defeat, but he is certainly not unbeatable and this will be a serious test for him. Cuarto has passed tough tests, he has built back from his loss, and we think that could be the key here. Salva has, for the most part, had things his own way, Cuarto has had to over-come a nemesis and we think that will have mentally solidified how Cuarto will deal with Salvo here, and he'll just do enough to take the decision and earn himself a future world title fight.
On March 8th we'll see a long awaited WBO Minimumweight world title eliminator, with the winner taking a huge step towards facing current world champion Vic Saludar. The men involved in that eliminator are Robert Paradero (17-0, 11), of the Philippines, and Wilfredo Mendez (11-1, 4), of Puerto Rico. On paper it's a brilliant matched bout with the Filipino holding the edge in experience and power whilst Mendez will be the man with the home advantage.
Note-Originally this bout had been arranged for December but various issues have seen it being delayed and rescheduled.
The 22 year old Filipino made his debut the month after his 18th birthday and has been progressed through the Filipino domestic scene. Sadly his biggest win to date was a domestic fight against Ronie Tanallon in 2016 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Youth Minimumweight title, which he defended earlier this year against Royder Lloyd Borbon. If we're being honest there is very little about Paradero's record that stands out with his most experienced opponent being domestic loser Rodel Tejares and only a small number of his wins coming against fighters with winning records.
The footage of Paradero isn't the best, but from what there is he looks like a pretty exciting and aggressive fighter, with a slight crudeness to his punches but a lot of power and a lot of energy. He appears to have very solid power in both hands and be willing to engage in a brawl when he needs to. Sadly the big issue is really how much he can force the action against a better calibre of opposition.
Mendez, also 22, turned professional at the age of 19 and fought not only in his native Puerto Rico but also the Dominican Republic and Colombia, in fact most of his bouts have been in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic rather than his home land. As with Paradero his competition has also been somewhat lacking, in terms of quality.His best wins have come against coming against Juan Guzman, who has a padded record and has come up short every time he has stepped up, and Alex Aragon Vega, whilst he has also lost to Leyman Benavides, a man who is a long way from a world beater.
In his fight against Benevides it seemed like Mendez spent a lot of time spoiling and wrestling, in what was an awfully messy fight with neither man really showing anything of real quality. Mendez at times looked scared, wild, sloppy and offensively terrible. Sadly it's hard to find prolonged footage of him other than that bout, but if that's his usual style then it's hard to see what he really brings to the table.
With home advantage Mendez should be favoured, but on what we've seen of the two fighters neither really looks ready for a world title fight, or an eliminator. What we've seen suggests that Peradero should be the favourite. He's the bigger puncher and the more accurate of the two. But we suspect that Mendez gets the nod if both men are still standing at the final bell.
The Minimumweight division in Japan is really interesting right now, with great fighters across every level, from domestic Youth right up to world level. At the moment the domestic champion is Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6) and on January 12th he'll make a mandatory title defense, as he takes on veteran Norihito Tanaka (17-7, 9) in a very good match up that could well launch the winner into a world title fight later in the year.
Aged 36 Ono doesn't have long left in his career, in fact the Southpaw from the Watanabe gym has already had a career that is almost 18 years long. During his career he has faced a who's who including Xiong Zhao Zhong, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Masayuki Kuroda, Yu Kimura, Katsunari Takuyama, Knockout CP Freshmart, Reiya Konishi and Riku Kano, with wins against a number of those men. Through his career he has proven to be a gutsy fighter, with a good work rate, a real hunger and, even in his mid 30's, he's pulling out good results.
This is set to be Ono's second defense of the title, following his title win last year against Ryoki Hirai and his maiden defense against Riku Kano. Whilst he has proven to be a fantastic servant to Japanese boxing he has had a very hard career, his lack of power has made things even tougher and he has already had over 221 rounds of professional boxing. Those rounds have often been tough, with Ono getting embroiled in battles of attrition, rather than battles of skill, and that's despite being a pretty skilled fighter.
Tanaka is the slightly younger man at 33, though he turned 34 in February, but has also had a long career that began in 2005. Notable though Tanaka's career hasn't been as active as that of Ono, in fact Tanaka took a break of more than 5 years, between 2011 and 2017, and that gave his body time to rest. Since beginning his comeback he has gone 3-2 (2) and earned this shot on merit with an upset win over Takumi Sakae in late 2018, earning a mandatory title shot. Whiilst that's his biggest win of the comeback he did manage to give the touted Tsubasa Koura real problems in an OPBF title fight, before being stopped.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, smart and tricky. He has given problems to the likes of Koura, Takashi Kunishige and managed to go 10 rounds with Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight, way back in 2011. Tanaka has under-rated power, a veteran's patience and a good ring IQ. Sadly he's not the quickest, his work rate isn't amazing and despite being skilled there are holes in his work that a quicker fighter can take advantage of.
We expect to see Ono being the one who comes forward, bringing the pressure and forcing Tanaka to respond. Strangely that'll actually be something that works in favour of Tanaka, who will be hoping to be able to counter Ono, bring his under-rated straight right hand into play. Despite Tanaka having the edge in power we suspect that Ono's work rate and toughness will see him over the line, albeit narrowly, in a very competitive contest. We do see Ono being rocked, at least once, but gutting it out for the win.
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.