By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 10, undefeated Japanese star Hiroki Okada faces former World champion Raymundo Beltran in a WBC Eliminator.
Hiroki Okada (19-0/13 KOs), one of the brightest Japanese boxing stars of this generation, is currently ranked at the top 10 of the Super Lightweight division. Competing in the sport since his high school days, as an amateur, he won the National Sports Festival Tournament (Japan’s premier sporting event) twice, before turning pro.
Going 7-0 (all stoppages) prior to winning the Japanese title, Okada defended this legendary championship 6 times, from 2014 to 2016, against Koichi Aso (23-8) twice, Hayato Hokazono (18-5), Masanobu Nakazawa (18-2), Cristiano Aoqui (13-7) and Valentine Hosokawa (24-6), which proved to be his toughest at the time, as Hosokawa was a much stronger fighter than him. Despite taking a beating, he still managed to come out on top.
As Okada was moving up in the rankings, he began facing international competition and on December of 2017, he faced Jason Pagara (41-3) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. A long-time WBO International champion, the Filipino fighter was undefeated since 2011 and with only two decision losses in his entire career. Okada kept peppering him with left jabs (a key weapon to his arsenal) and eventually connected with an uppercut in the sixth round, which left him unable to respond to the referee’s count, giving Pagara his first stoppage loss and himself the strap.
After dispatching world title contender Ciso Morales (19-8) in just the first round (same strategy as in the Pagara bout, only this time he dropped him with a counter right hook) Okada signed with Top Rank and made his US debut this past September against Cristian Rafael Coria (28-7).
It’s worth mentioning that Okada has been training at the Kadoebi Houseki Boxing Gym, a gym that has produced many champions like WBC Strawweight World champion Eagle Kyowa, WBC & Lineal Flyweight World champion Koji Kobayashi, IBF Super Bantamweight World champion Yukinori Oguni, WBA Lightweight World champion Yusuke Kobori and unified Japanese, OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight champion, as well as K-1 champion, Kyotaro Fujimoto. Okada will need to be at his best when he takes on “Sugar” Ray Beltran, for a chance at the WBC World title.
The 20 year veteran Raymundo Beltran (35-8/21 KOs) finally won the World championship last year, at 36 years of age. The road to the gold wasn’t an easy one though.
His journey began in 2013 when he fought Ricky Burns (43-7) for the WBO Lightweight title, at the Englishman’s home turf. Sugar Ray brought his A game that night, dominating the fight and even dropping Burns with his patented left hook and also breaking his jaw. As the fight went the distance, it was almost certain that a new champion was going to be crowned but the judges declared the match a draw, a result that was deemed controversial by many.
Beltran failed to win the big one once again, this time against Terence Crawford (34-0) in 2014. The third time was supposed to be the charm, after he knocked out 2 division World champion Takahiro Ao (28-3), with an overhand right in the second round. However, due to missing weight and testing positive for illegal substances, the WBO title remained vacant.
The Mexican fighter made his return in 2016, after a 1 year suspension, winning 5 fights in a row, including a win over 2 time WBA interim Super Featherweight World champion Bryan Vasquez (37-3) to earn another opportunity at the strap. Beltran finally became the WBO Lightweight World champion by defeating former WBA title holder Paulus Moses (40-5) in February of 2018. Unfortunately, the celebration was short lived, as he lost in his first defense. Now, almost 6 months later, Beltran will make his Super Lightweight debut against an undefeated opponent, in Hiroki Okada.
This fight will be a significant turning point for both Okada as well as Beltran. For Okada, this is without a doubt his biggest test yet, a match against a former World champion. Despite being a top ranked fighter (WBO #2 / WBA #3 / IBF #5 / WBC #9) he has never faced someone, the caliber of Beltran. Considering how poor his last performance was against Coria, a loss here is not an option for the Japanese star. Okada will need to keep him at bay with his left jabs, while trying to score some big shots with the right. A knock out victory will probably not be on the cards for him in this match. On the other hand, Sugar Ray has a killer left hook. Most of his KO wins have come due it. That’s his money maker and he will definitely look to land it again. His weakness though, is his defense. He usually leaves his head exposed and because of that he has been knocked down on numerous occasions throughout his career. Granted that, this is his gameplan most of the time, to take punishment in order to dish it back, but this might get him in more trouble than usual against a much younger and faster rival here. Plus, there’s the unknown factor of how Beltran will fair in this new weight class. To conclude with, this can be described as a “do or die” situation, as a loss for either man could be the end of their push (Okada) or even their career (Beltran) at this point. So who will leave California as the number 1 contender for the WBC World championship ? We will find out this Sunday.
The last bout of Asian interest for the month of January comes at the very end of the month as Filipino fighter Aston Palicte (24-2-1, 20) takes on unbeaten Puerto Rican Jose Martinez (20-0-2, 13) in a WBO Super Flyweight world title eliminator in California. The winner will become the mandatory challenger for the WBO title currently held by Donnie Nietes, who won the belt on December 31st in Macau when he defeated Kazuto Ioka. It's worth noting that a win for Palicte would set up a rematch with Nietes, after the two fought to a draw in 2018, whilst a win for Martinez would see the Puerto Rican getting his first world title fight.
The 27 year "Mightly" Palicte is a boxer-puncher who is huge for a Super Flyweight, standing at 5'8" with 68" reach. He's a strong and powerful fighter, who has technical holes to pick at, but does have underrated boxing ability, a very hard right hand and a stiff jab. Where he lacks most is in terms of speed, and he can be seen to be quite a bit slower and less sharp than the other top Super Flyweights. He used his size and timing well to neutralise that difference, but it is still clear than he's a split-second behind the top guys with his hands and feet.
During his career Palicte has mostly fought at home in the Philippines, but has travelled to Macau, Mexico and the USA, where he has linked up with Roy Jones Jr and his promotional company.
Palicte's key to winning is using his physicality, size and power, things that really are big advantages too him. He needs to look to get Martinez's respect, and keep him at the end of his hard straight punches. If he can do that he can chip away at Martinez before unloading powerful combinations at the Puerto Rican slows down.
Martinez is a 26 year old who is a more...regular sized Super Flyweight at 5'4" and with a 64" reach. His career began back in late 2011 and saw him reel off 18 wins, 11 by stoppage, before taking on the then 20 year old Alejandro Santiago Barrios. Barrios entered the bout as a bit of an unknown but was very unfortunate not to give Martinez his first defeat, in an 8 round bout. That win slowed Martinez's rise and a rematch in 2018 ended up pushing Barrios into an IBF title fight with Jerwin Ancajas, who was lucky to get a draw against the diminutive Mexican. Aside from the two bouts with Barrios there is little of major value on Martinez's record, with most notable wins being a win against an old, out of shape Juan Palacios and a win against Jesus Martinez, who has been stopped in 2 of his 3 subsequent bouts.
In the ring Martinez is a pretty unspectacular looking fighter. He appears to fight off the back foot a lot, throws arm punches, and has little in terms of crispness to his work, he looks defensively very liable and rushes a lot of what he does. We're not saying he's terrible, but to get such a big opportunity and to have shown so little actual skill is a worry. He's shown a willingness to bite down on his gum shield, he let his hands go, and he does seem to have power behind his shots, but looks pretty poor if we're being honest. In fact it does seem like someone likes him given the two very suspect draws with Barrios and his high ranking.
We suspect Martinez will have the confidence of an unbeaten fighter, but it's hard to imagine his wide and open style will work against Palicte. We suspect the Filipino will use his reach to counter the Puerto Rican before taking him out in the second half of the fight. If not, and if we get a surprise win for Martinez we can't see him posing any questions, at all, of Donnie Nietes in an eventual mandatory title fight.
At the moment the Lightweight division is one of the most frustrating divison's in the sport. It had two elite level fighters, Vasyl Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia, though they never looked likely to face off. Then it had a huge number of interesting, solid but unspectacular contenders, all looking to get into the mix at the top of the division. It's not that it's a bad division by any stretch, but one that feels a little bit like it's lacking in star power and real top talent with a lot of evenly matched contenders behind the sensational Lomachenko.
Thankfully with so many evenly matched contenders there are a lot of bouts that could be put together and be very interesting. One such bout takes place on November 10th, and is a WBA world title eliminator, as Indonesian fighter Daud Yordan (38-3-0-1, 26) takes on former world champion Anthony Crolla (33-6-3, 13). On paper this could be a genuinely thrilling match up between two men who like to let their hands fly, and typically find themselves in gruelling wars. Neither man is a big puncher, though both have respectable power, and both have a gritty toughness to them.
Of the two men Crolla is the more well known. He is a very well liked fighter who had a really hard luck career that saw him suffer a number of early losses, including a defeat to Youssef al-Hamidi in 2008 and losses to Gary Sykes in 2009 and 2012. Despite those set backs he has really worked hard, and in 2015 he became the WBA Lightweight champion thanks to a tremendous body shot KO. That title win came in Crolla's 38th bout and had followed a controversial draw to Perez 4 months earlier. Sadly though his reign was a short one, losing in his first defense to Jorge Linares the following year. A loss in a rematch to Linares seemed to show Crolla's level, but he has bounced back with a couple of wins, including a victory over Ricky Burns.
It should be noted that not only was Crolla a hard luck story in the ring, but also a hero out of it, breaking up a burglary in late 2014, before being attacked by one of the burglars and suffering a broken ankle and a fractured skull. Thankfully he has bounced back from that with no lasting issues, and even scored his biggest win following that injury.
Yordan isn't as well known as Crolla, but is without a doubt the most well known Indonesian currently active in the sport, by a long way, and is a fighter with a cult following. His career has been an easier one than Crolla's, but he has mixed with a relative who's who facing off with the likes of Robert Guerrero, Celestino Caballero, countryman Chris John and Simpiwe Vetyeka. At his best he's a little warrior, who comes to fight, and applies a lot of pressure. He can be out boxed, has somewhat flawed defense but really does put on a show, as he showed earlier this year in a huge win in Russia against Pavel Malikov in what was an real all action bout.
Yordan is a fun fighter to watch, but he's very much a basic, rough around the edges pressure fighter, and we can't help but think that Crolla will be too sharp, too quick and too smart for him. The Indonesian will have moments, but we suspect he'll struggle to have them on a consistent basis against Crolla. If, however, Yordan can drag the Englishman into his fight he does have a chance, but we see that as a moderately slim chance.
Unfortunately no matter who wins this they really wouldn't stand a chance against the pheonomal Lomachenko.
On November 10th the Korakuen Hall plays host to an IBF Super Flyweight world title eliminator. The men involved are Japanese veteran Ryuichi Funai (30-7, 21) and Mexican youngster Victor Emanuel Olivo (15-2-1, 7), with the reward for the winner being a potential shot at Jerwin Ancajas in 2019. For Funai the bout is a must win, given he's 33 and he doesn't have time to rebuild his career, whilst Olivo will be looking to put himself on the map at the age of 22.
The Japanese fighter, from the Watanabe gym, has been a professional since 2005 and has carved out a really respectable career, especially when you consider he was 202 after 4 professional contests. In 2012 he got his first shot at a title, but was stopped in 9 rounds by the then OPBF Bantamweight champion Rolly Lunas. That loss to Lunas saw a then 27 year old Funai fall to 17-6 (11) but since then he has gone an impressive 14-1 (10) with his only loss being a razor thin one to Sho Ishida, in a Japanese Super Flyweight title bout.
Although Funai had lost in his first couple of title bouts he has since claimed the Japanese national title, winning that last year from childhood friend Kenta Nakagawa, and the WBO Asia Pacific title, which he won this year by stopping Warlito Parrenas. Since going 0-2 in title bouts Funai has since 4-0 (3) and has edged his way towards a world title fight. Another win when he faces Olivo will secure him that shot and open up the door for a career defining contest.
In the ring Funai is an accomplished boxer-puncher, who has lovely variety in his shots, boxes well behind a solid jab to control the distance. Although not a pure puncher Funai does have very respectable power in his right hand, and not many fighters will be wanting to eat his straight right, with is very straight and very hurtful.
The 22 year old Olivo made his debut at the age of 17 on the Mexican domestic scene. He would win his first 9 bouts, including a good domestic win over Jonathan Sanchez Cantu, before suffering a narrow loss to Milan Melindo in November 2015. Since then Olivo hasn't really faced anyone of any note, whilst going 6-1-1 (3). His sole loss during that time was a narrow decision loss to Jose Briegel Quirino whilst he would fight to a draw with Angel Aviles. Sadly there is little else to comment on from his record, and it's a real mystery as to why the IBF have him in their top 15 ranked fighters.
We've not been able to see much of Olivo, as footage of the Mexican is scarce. What we have seen however is that he's a very capable fighter with the ability to counter punch, as he did brilliantly at times against Melindo, and has the ability to pick up the pace as well. Sadly for him he does look to be a light puncher and it seems like he's also very under-sized for a Super Flyweight, having been no bigger than Melindo, a natural Light Flyweight.
We suspect the size difference could be a key difference here, and whilst we expect Olivo to have success, especially with his counters, we think Funai's size, strength and power will be the key to him taking home the victory and setting up a 2019 clash for the IBF title. If Olivo does manage to score the upset then he'll certainly have his best career win, and would make a bigger statement with a win here than his previous 15 combined. For Funai however a win here wouldn't actually be his most impressive, despite being among his most significant.
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.