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
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