On March 3rd we'll see unbeaten WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (20-0, 7) make his next defense, as he takes on former Japanese national champion Norihito Tanaka (19-7, 10) in Nakhon Sawan. For Tanaka this will be his first world title bout, whilst the local star looks to make his 8th defense of the WBA title, which he won in 2016 when he beat Byron Rojas, in their first bout.
Of the two men it's obvious that Knockout CP Freshmart with the more recognisable name. The Thai has one of the most memorable names in the sport, and has also had a long, if not particularly impressive, reign as the WBA champion. Prior to becoming a boxer he was a successful Muay Thai fighter, who turned to boxing in 2012. He quickly rose through the ranks an claimed the WBA "interim" title in 2014 before taking the full version of the title 20 months later. Sadly since winning the WBA belt his competition has, on the whole, been unspectacular with wins over faded veterans, like Shin Ono, Go Odaira and Xiong Zhao Zhong, and pre-prime Filipino fighters like Toto Landero and ArAr Andales.
Although named "Knockout" CP Freshmart the Thai hasn't really shown any power since moving to world class. He has gone 12-0 (2) in since fighting in his first "interim" world title fighter, and could mockingly now be called "Unanimous Decision" CP Freshmart. Not only has Knockout shown a lack of power but also a really boring style. He seems capable of setting a good pace, for a few rounds early on, but as the bouts progress he becomes more and more dull to watch, with hugging, wrestling and messy action becoming the norm for his bouts. Although highly skilled there is a view that he has lost interest in the sport, and that really feels like the case in recent bouts, in what have been some awful bouts. The one thing that Knockout does have going in his favour is is that he appears to have a good relationship with judges, who have often given him rounds that he may not have deserved, especially when he fights in Thailand.
The 35 year old Tanaka is someone who is coming to the end of his career, though has been riding a small wave of success in recent years.
Tanaka debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts, before losing 3 of his next 4. That sounds bad but included losses to Ryoichi Taguchi, Kenichi Horikawa and Masatate Tsuji. Another loss not too much later, to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight was followed by yet another loss, this time to Takashi Kunishige. After those losses he was 13-5 (7) and only fought once more before walking away from the sport in late 2011. It would be more than 5 years before he returned and since then he has rebuilt going 5-2 (3) with notable domestic wins over Yuto Takahashi, Takumi Sakae and Shin Ono, as well as avenging one of his 2 losses, a controversial one to Naoya Haruguchi.
In the ring Tanaka is a sneaky good fighter, a veteran who uses smart movement to draw mistakes, drawing opponents in and countering. He's really small for a Minimumweight, but really crafty, and very much a smart fighter who punishes opponents for their slip ups. Although not a puncher he does have enough sting on his shots to do damage, as he did against Shin Ono, and given he often catches opponents coming in those shots have the opponent's weight on them as well.
One thing we need to mention before we talk about how we expect the fight to go is the history of Japanese challengers in Thailand. In more than 20 world title bouts in Thailand, no Japanese fighter has ever won. History is dead set against Tanaka, as is his age, and the questionable officiating of bouts featuring Knockout.
We expect to see this start quite well, Knockout fights tend to, but after 3 or 4 rounds this will have descended into a mauling affair. We wouldn't be surprised if Tanaka has the skills and movement to take a couple of the early rounds, but as the bout progresses into a gruelling mess we expect to see Knockout convince the judges to give him rounds.
We do not expect this to be pretty, we do not expect this to be exciting and sadly, given Knockout's last few bouts, we do not expect to see the title change hands.
Prediction - UD12 Knockout
On February 22nd we'll see WBO Super Bantamweight champion Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26) hunt his 5th defense, as he takes on the little known Filipino challenger Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16). On paper, and in the eyes of many fans, this is a total mismatch and Santisima is being thrown to the wolves, much like countryman Juan Miguel Elorde was last September when he was matched with the Mexican champion. The big question here then, is whether or not Santisima stands a chance, or is he another push over for the Mexican champion?
The 26 year old champion really announced himself on the world stage in impressive fashion in December 2018, when he defeated the previously unbeaten Isaac Dogboe for the WBO world title. Since winning the belt from Dogboe we've seen Navarrete defeat Dogboe in a rematch, along with the unbeaten but untested Francisco Da Vaca, the limited Juan Miguel Elorde and the poor Francisco Horta, stopping all 4 men. On paper stopping 4 world title challengers in just 7 months, the time between his first and fourth defenses, is impressive, but the level of competition, Dogboe aside, is poor. To say the least.
Although his competition hasn't been great few can argue with how god Navarrete has looked. The Mexican is an aggressive, powerful monster in the ring who looks huge at the weight, throws a lot of leather and is very heavy handed. He can box and move, but at his best he's an aggressive fighter who brings pressure and grinds opponents down with a combination of volume and physicality. He's the type of fighter who looks to be getting better with every fight, but sadly his competition is offer so little recently that it's hard to know how good he really is. That's a huge shame given the depth of the division, which has fighters like Hiroaki Teshigawara, TJ Doheny, Albert Pagara, Angelo Leo, Thomas Patrick Ward, Ronnie Rios, Tramaine Williams and Stephen Fulton.
Aged 23 the challenger is stepping up massively, though does enter the bout as a confident fighter on the back of a 17 fight winning streak. Sadly there are a lot of worries about Santisima, who isn't a bad fighter, but isn't someone who is ready for a world title fight. The heavy handed Santisima lost on debut, and was 2-2 after 4 bouts but has improved since then, and scored notable wins, on the Filipino domestic scene. These have included victories over the likes of Jerry Nardo, Marco Demecillo, Rex Wao and Rene Dacquel. Despite the win over his domestic fighters his most notable win to date is actually over Mexico veteran Uriel Lopez. That win over Lopez was the only time we've seen the Filipino extended 12 rounds. He dominated that bout but did have flaws exposed.
In the ring Santisima is a fun fighter to watch, but he's very flawed. He's heavy handed, which is his biggest strength, and likes to go to the body, applying pressure and working on the inside. Sadly though he doesn't really seem to apply pressure with any thought process behind things. Instead of boxing his way inside, behind his jab, his just marches in, lets a flurry go, and then backs off, before repeating. With some serious training and development he has got the tools to become a very good fighter. Sadly his current style leaves him open on his way in, and when he backs off he often drops his hands when he feels safe.
Sadly for Santisima, whilst he is a decent fighter, there are simply too many flaws and too many holes. Those holes will be picked apart by Navarette, who we suspect will break Santisima down rather quickly. Santisima is, for us, better than Juan Miguel Elorde, who Navarette beat in 4 rounds, and a lot more dangerous. However, we actually think Santisima is going to be stopped quicker than his countryman due to the fact he's more aggressive and takes more risks, likely walking on to something big in the first 3 rounds. Until the stoppage this will be very exciting, but also rather one-sided.
Prediction TKO3 - Navarette
On February 8th we get a genuinely compelling world title fight as unbeaten Mongolian Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9) challenges American speedster Gary Russell Jr (30-1, 18), who makes his annual appearance for 2020. The bout will be Nyamabayar's first world title shot, and comes as a mandatory title challenge, whilst Russell will be seeking his 5th defense since winning the title, in March 2015.
Aged 31 Russell JR was once touted as one of the faces of the future for boxing. He showed flashes of pure brilliance early in his career with frightening speed and accuracy, impressive combinations, good boxing basics and a strong amateur background. He was 20 when he made his debut, way back in 2009, an was tipped as a genuine mega star thanks to his strong amateur background and freakish speed. Sadly though his career has failed to take off as many had hoped, in part due to a loss in 2014 to Vasyl Lomachenko, for the WBO Featherweight title. Despite the loss to Lomachenko Russell Jr did claim the WBC title just 9 months later but hasn't yet shone since winning the belt.
Since winning the WBC title in 2015, when he stopped Jhonny Gonzalez, Russell Jr's career has become a joke. He has defended the title 4 times, but the only real wins of value there are his 2017 win over Oscar Escandon and his competitive win over Jospeh Diaz. Those wins have been sandwiched by wins over Patrick Hyland, way back in 2016, and Koki Martinez in 2019, yes a 2019 version of Kiko Martinez got a world title fight!
Although still quick and well schooled Russell Jr's prime is behind him and he turns 32 in June. For a fighter who's speed was his greatest asset this is the age where that assets starts to falter. Coming his age with inactivity will not help him, or his reign as world champion.
At 27 years old Nyambayar is coming into his prime, and the heavy handed Mongolian has earned his shot by beating other top contenders, such as the aforementioned Oscar Escandon and the awkward Caludio Marrero. Although not the quickest fighter out there Nyambayar combines technical skills, physical strength, impressive size, and power. His hands are like rocks and what he hits he hurts. Sadly there are issues with what he does, and his balance is a major question mark, as is chin. Nyamabayar has been dropped several times in recent fights and although he's never looked hurt as such, the fact he's been down is a worry.
Although Nyambayar has only fought 11 times as a professional he is a former amateur standout. He managed to claim silver medals at the World Championships and the Olympics. This amateur background is solid and shows him to be a lot more experienced than his professional record shows, so those looking at his record and questioning his experience are perhaps asking the wrong question. However Nyambayar has suffered a number of injuries and since making his debut in 2015 he has rarely been active himself, with just a single fight in each of the last 2 years. That is a big issue.
When it comes to this fight this is a hard one to call, due in part to activity, or rather lack of, of the two men involved in the contest. Russell Jr's speed would be a nightmare for the Mongolian to deal with, if the champion was sharp and on point. However the level of competition that Russell Jr has been fighting at really doesn't let us know what he still has in the tank. On the other hand Nyambayar has the skills to neutralise some of that speed, and the power to hurt Russell Jr, if he lands clean. The Monbolian also has significant size advantages and will be looking to use those to control the range of the bout.
At their best we would expect Russell Jr to take a decision, play smart and play safe to rack up points. This February however we wouldn't be surprised by the younger, fresher, bigger Nyamabayar out working, out fighting and out muscling the smaller, older, Russell Jr, to take a close decision, and free the WBC title from Russell Jr's clutches after one of the worst reigns in modern history.
Prediction - Nyambayar UD12
The Minimumweight division is in a weird place right now. The champions seem to be showing no intention of unifying their titles and instead we essentially have 4 champions each picking their way through contenders in a division that really hasn't caught fire for a few years. We've thankfully got some some interesting contenders breaking through but it could be a while before any of them taking on one of the division top dogs.
Thankfully the year does kick off with an interesting bout in the division as IBF champion Pedro Taduran (14-2, 11) travels to Mexico and defends his title in early February, taking on once beaten Mexican Daniel Valladares (22-1, 13) in a mouth watering match up.
The 23 year old Taduran won the title last September, when he upset fellow Filipino Samuel Salva in a 4 round thriller. That was Taduran's second shot at a world title after a 2018 loss in a WBC title bout to Wanhen Menayothin. Despite losing to Menayothin we were impressed by Taduran who showed great aggression and energy, and outside of the Philippines, with a better referee than Stephen Blea, things could have been different. His title win over Salva saw Taduran score a 4th stoppage in 5 bouts, having also taken out Jeffrey Galero, Jerry Tomogdan and Philip Luis Cuerdo.
Fighting out of the southpaw stance Taduran's is an awkward fighter to face. He looks easy to hit due to a relative lack of defense, and he is there to be tagged by straight right hands. Saying that however he's still a total nightmare to face due to his high work rate and nasty power. He's one of those fighters who knows that his best defense is actually his offense and it will take a very good fighter to neutralise Taduran, without nullifying their own offense. Unlike most Minimumweights he chases a stoppage from the off, making him a real danger man to face, and not someone to get involved in a war with.
Mexican fighter Daniel Valladares has mostly fought as a Flyweight or Light Flyweight, and will be fighting as a Minimumweight for the first time when he gets in the ring with Taduran. Despite the weight concern he does make for an excellent dance partner and comes into this bout with a lot of momentum thanks to an 11 fight winning run. That run includes a win an in IBF eliminator at Light Flyweight, over the previously unbeaten Chrsitian Araneta, a win over former world champion Merlito Sabillo and a win over the then unbeaten Adrian Curiel.
In the ring Valladares is a really fun fighter to watch. He's a smart, yet aggressive pressure fighter. He has sharp movement, quick hands and despite being aggressive he is a patient fighter. He will look to create mistakes from his opponent for him to capitalise on, rather than go out wildly swinging and this could cause real issue for Taduran. It's worth noting that he has shown good form against Filipino and his win against Araneta actually came against a Filipino southpaw.
Given the styles of the two men this should be a total thriller. We would expect to see Taduran forcing the pressure and the action with his output setting the tempo, and Valladares responding with smart counters. We would expect a round or two of the two men figuring each other out, the time it takes for Taduran's engine to get going, then we expect to see the two men letting shots go freely on the inside. This will give us some amazing action.
The real question going in is how well will Valladares make 105lbs and can Taduran keep up his output in Mexico? If Valladares can make the weight safely he should be favoured, in what will be a cracking fight. If he takes too much out of his body however this will end up being a bit of a beating the Mexican. We expect Valladares to make weight, he's not looked a big guy at 108lbs, and we would slightly favour him here.
One thing we will say for this bout, is do not be surprised if this ends up being a bit of a sleeper classic!
Prediction UD12 - Valladares
Back in September we had expected to turn our attention to Madison Square Garden Theater for an excellent Super Bantamweight world title bout, pitting unified champion Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 19) against mandatory challenger Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6). Sadly in the build up the champion was injured and the bout was forced to be delayed, and rescheduled. With it being eventually pushed back to late January. Despite the delay we are now on course for the brilliant looking match up.
The 29 year old champion, who has unified the WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight titles will be making his first defense of the IBF belt and his fifth defense of the WBA crown, the first as the super champion. For Akhmadaliev, who is mandatory for the WBA title, the bout will be his first at world level as he looks to join a select few to win a world title in just his 8th professional bout.
Roman has become one of the sports most interesting champions. He won the title in 2017, stopping Shun Kubo, and announcing himself on the world stage. Prior to that win he had been knocking on the door, with wins over the likes of Adam Lopez, Christopher Martin and Christian Esquivel though it's been since winning the title that he has really impressed. After winning the belt in Japan, stopping Kubo, he returned and beat Ryo Matsumoto before beating Mosies Flores and Gavin McDonnell. Those wins built momentum, and that momentum lead to a unification bout with the then IBF champion TJ Doheny this past April. That bout was something special, with Roman dropping Doheny twice, but having the Irish-Australian warrior coming back at him with real drive and vigour. Over 12 rounds Roman did enough to win the bout and unify the belts.
After 2 losses in his first 11 bouts Roman could have been written off, though he has battled back hard, winning 19 in a row, unifying titles, taking chances and becoming the star of Thompson Boxing. The way he has turned his career around has been amazing and the fact he's travelled to Japan for 2 of those wins, and has taken 5 unbeaten records in his last 7 fights shows he isn't scared of a challenge. What Roman does really well is work. His output is excellent, he's technically solid with his shots, and despite throwing a lot he doesn't waste many. They aren't always the sharpest, or the hardest, but they are solid shots, and his engine is excellent. He combines that energy with a really gritty toughness, and although he can be hurt he grits it out, recovers quickly and comes back. If a fighter hurts him it really does seem like they should go all out to take him down, rather than give him a chance to clear the cobwebs.
Although Roman was a good amateur, which is something we don't hear much about strangely, Akhmadaliev was a sensational amateur. The Uzbek was a World Amateur Champion silver medal winner, an Olympic bronze medal winner a multi-time medal winner on the Asian and Uzbek scenes and recorded around 300 amateur wins. It's that amateur foundation that has seen him being fast-tracked through the professional ranks. In just his 4th professional contest he took on the then 15-6 Ramon Contreras for the WBA Inter-Continental title, then defended it against the world ranked IsaacZarate, to earn the mandatory position towards the end of last year. By that point he had been a professional for around 8 months! To tick over earlier this year he destroyed former world title challenger Carlos Carlson in 3 rounds.
Although a stellar amateur Akhmadaliev doesn't always fight like an amateur, in fact from the off he had a more professional style, with an aggressive mentality and almost a seek and destroy gameplan. He is constantly on the front foot, looking to break opponents down and although a touch reckless he is smart with his aggression.He's a fighter who seems to truly believe he's special, and not just because his team tell him he is. For a Super Bantamweight he's a solid puncher, he's exciting, but he is stepping up massively, from the likes of Isaac Zarate to Daniel Roman.
We'd love to see Akhmadaliev win here, setting his stall out as one of the kings of the Super Bantamweight divisions this quickly after his debut, and at just 25 years old. Sadly however we do feel it's too much too soon, and his lack of experience over the longer distance will be an issue. He's certainly has a chance against Roman, and if he's as good as he believes it's a really good chance, but we suspect he comes up short here against a man who remains one of boxing's most under-rated world champions. Worst yet for the Uzbek, we see him being ground down by Roman's pressure in the later stages, suffering a late TKO loss in a painful and gruelling defeat
Prediction- TKO11 Roman
On December 31st we'll see the decade come to an end, ending what has been an amazing decade of boxing. The final world title bout of the decade comes from Japan, because who else puts on New Year's Eve boxing? And will see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (24-2, 14) defending his title against mandatory challenger Jeyvier Cintron (11-0-0-1, 5). For Ioka this will be his 18th world title bout, in a career that will likely always be over-looked by many, whilst Cintron will be getting his first world title bout.
To close out a decade this isn't a huge world title fight, but given how much of a star Ioka is in Japan this is still a huge deal and it looks likely to be a great chance for Japanese fans to begin their new year celebrations just a few hours early.
Ioka has been one of the most notable Japanese fighters of the decade, in fact if we're being honest he has been one of the most notable fighter of the decade end of. He has fought at world level since 2011, and even with a retirement part way through the decade he has continued to be a very relevant figure in boxing, making a successful comeback. As many are aware boxing flows through Ioka's veins, his father was a fighter and his uncle was famously a 2-weight world champion. That family linage has help make Ioka a star, and Japan's first male 4-weight world champion and only the 4th man in history win titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115.
Ioka is one of the sports most over-looked fighters. He's an excellent boxer-puncher, a brilliant body puncher and despite only having 26 fights to his name he is someone who has fought almost his entire career at world level. Going through his record reads like a who's who of the lower weights with wins over Oleydeong Sithsamerchai, Akira Yaegashi, Juan Hernandez, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo and Aston Palicte. He's adaptable and a genuinely fantastic all-round talent, though will sadly always be Japan's #2, at best, behind Naoya Inoue.
Cintron was a top amateur, a 2-time Olympian, and had won his first 10 bouts before having a No Contest with Koki Eto in a world title eliminator. That No Contest was a weird one, with Cintron being stopped following a brutal headclash, though Cintron would go on to win a rematch against Eto with ease, near enough shutting out the Japanese fighter over 10 rounds. That win was his best to date and comes after other decent wins against the likes of Alonso Melendez and Marvin Solano. Decent but not world class.
Given he was a top amateur it's not going to be a surprise to say that Cintron is a talented boxer. He's light on his feet, knows how to use the ring, and fires off technically correct shots. He is however a man moving up in class, significantly, and this will be the first time he's been in the ring with a genuine world class fighter. It will also be the first time he's fought in the East and the first time he's gone into the bout as an under-dog. He's a genuine talent, and at 24 is still improving, but there is a feeling that maybe this fight is coming to soon for him. Sure Ioka was 21 years old and 6-0 (4) when he won his first world title, but he was fighting at home and was up against someone less good than he is now.
We see Cintron a a future world champion. He's an excellent young fighter with so much potential. We don't see him beating Ioka however. We expect Cintron to have early success behind his speed and movement, but Ioka's powerful body attack will take his legs away, and when that happens Ioka will begin to take over, eventually taking a clear decision over Cintron, who will grit it out and survive though some tough moments late on.
With this being the last world title fight of the decade it does see attention turn back to Ioka, who in 2010 was still a rising prospect, and for him to now close out the decade in the same way he has finished so many years recently does feel kind of right, and this will be the 8th time he had fought on the final day of the year.
Prediction UD12 Ioka
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 31st, 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka defends his WBO Flyweight title against Chinese rising star Wulan Tuolehazi.
Kosei Tanaka (14-0/8 KOs) is considered to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World championships.
He finally turned pro in 2013 and after winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked fighter Ryuji Hara (23-2) for the OPBF Strawweight belt. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men compete at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the next and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans in attendance. Finally in the 10th, Tanaka delivered a brutal nonstop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage.
5 months removed from his breakout performance, Tanaka became the WBO Strawweight World champion, after beating Julian Yedras (24-7) for the vacant crown. His sole defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (19-4). Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting tagged by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even suffering his first knockdown, before stopping Saludar with a sweet liver shot to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the World title in 2018)
Tanaka would then move up to Light Flyweight and once again captured gold, putting on a boxing clinic against former World champion Moises Fuentes (25-6). He comfortably defended the WBO championship over knockout artist Angel Acosta (21-2) but had a rough time against Rangsan Chayanram (16-2). Much like in the Saludar fight, his fighting style got him in serious trouble. Not only the Thai fighter dropped him in the opening round but even when Tanaka returned fire and finished him in the later rounds, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out of the much anticipated unification title bout with Ryoichi Taguchi on New Year’s Eve.
Upon his return to the ring, this time at Flyweight, he outclassed the then unbeaten Ronnie Baldonado (15-2), earning a shot at Sho Kimura (18-3). In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of these exchanges. In the end, the unstoppable prodigy received the majority decision and was crowned a 3 division champion, at only 23 years of age.
As fate would have it, his initial defense would be against the man he was meant to meet back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4). The former WBA & IBF champion looked like an old fighter here, unable to match Tanaka’s speed and power, getting peppered with hooks and jabs on numerous occasions, losing his second world title fight in a row and retiring shortly after. Tanaka marked his second one this past August when he dispatched mandatory challenger Jonathan Gonzalez (22-3), dropping him 4 times with body shots. Looking to close of the year with a bang, he steps into the squared circle one more time, as he takes on a rather dangerous foe coming all the way from China.
Wulan Tuolehazi (13-3) represents a new wave of Chinese boxers, who have quickly risen up in the world rankings and are looking to make an impact. In spite of a few shortcomings at the beginning of his career, he quickly bounced back and even scored a TKO victory over former WBA World champion Ekkawit Songnui (49-7) in less than 3 years into the sport.
Tuolehazi would soon come back to knock out Watana Phenbaan (18-6) with a thunderous overhand right, thus capturing the interim WBO Asia Pacific title. Wasting no time, he’d then face OPBF champion Jayr Raquinel (12-1) with the vacant WBC Silver crown on the line. Tuolehazi withstood the Filipino’s heavy punches, while buying his time, patiently waiting for openings in order to strike back. He finally floored Raquinel with a straight right in the last round, which seemingly came out of nowhere, pretty much sealing the deal and earning him a second championship.
A thrilling encounter took place earlier this year, when he locked horns with Ryota Yamauchi (5-1), this time for the WBA International belt. The Chinese star put together some strong combinations throughout the match, stunning his Japanese rival on multiple occasions and dropping him with a perfectly placed uppercut during the 3rd round. However, the tide would shift in the second half of the fight, after Yamauchi connected with a big punch to the mid-section that hurt the champion. Both men took a lot of punishment, but it was Tuolehazi that walked away with the gold. It’s worth mentioning that both Raquinel and Yamauchi were undefeated prior to these outings.
These past few months, he has defended his belt against former WBC International champion Ardin Diale (35-15) in yet again another very close contest as well as Satoshi Tanaka (7-6), whom he knocked down twice with body shots. Tuolehazi now aims to end 2019 by adding the World championship to his collection of belts, but that might be easier said than done.
Much like in every Tanaka fight, the question remains, will this finally be the time that his recklessness proves to be his undoing? It is well known that Tanaka’s brawling style has put him in dangerous positions, almost costing him 2 title bouts (Saludar and Chayanram) in the past, where he was saved only by his incredible knockout power and hand speed. Tuolehazi needs to exploit that chink in the champion’s armor, if he wants to emerge victorious. His best shot is to wait for Tanaka to go on the offensive and then counter strike with the right, which is his biggest weapon. His high threshold for pain will be put to test more than ever before against a man who loves to attack nonstop.
To conclude with, it’s almost guaranteed that Kosei will be triumphant in this title defense as well, against a seemingly inferior opponent, but then again crazier things have happened in the boxing ring. Either way, we will find out for sure on New Year’s Eve.
On December 23rd Japan's Ryota Murata (15-2, 12) will look to make his first defense of the WBA Middleweight title, as he takes on hard hitting Canadian foe Steven Butler (28-1-1, 24). The bout will be the main event of a triple header in Yokohama and is expected to draw in an immense TV audience in Japan, as well as a solid audience from external markets, with the bout being shown around the world. For Murata the bout is a chance to claim a notable win and move towards some huge bouts in 2020, with talk of potential bouts against the likes of Saul Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford in the near future. As for Butler the bout is a huge opportunity to become a star, and go from contender to champion.
Of the two men it's Murata who is the star. What many don't realise is just how much of a star he is in Japan. He is probably the only man with a bigger fan base in the country than Naoya Inoue. We all know Inoue is a star, and the fact Murata matches him shows what a draw he is. He's a former amateur standout, who famously won a gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 and also won a silver medal at the World Amateur Championships in 2011. He is the first Japanese fighter to go from winning Olimpic gold to winning a world title as a professional, and he is also only the second ever Japanese fighter to win a world title at Middleweight, following Shinji Takehara.
For those who haven't haven't seen much of Murata, he is technically quite basic. He's a a come forward pressure fighter who marches forward behind a tight guard, with a very powerful jab and works well on the inside. At times however he is inconsistent. His 2018 loss to Rob Brant saw him slowly following Brant around the ring, never getting out of second gear, never letting his hands go with any consistency and never fully committing to his strengths. He tried to box the boxer, and he made to look foolish. In their rematch however he used his jab, his strength and his power and battered Brant to the point the referee needed to step in. It was only a glimpse of what Murata can do, but it did show that Murata can look good when he's aggressive. He takes a shot well, he's strong, he's powerful and when he fights to his potential he's really tough to beat. It's just a shame we rarely see him fighting at his best. At 33 years old he now needs to fight to his potential, as any slip is probably going to kill any hope of getting a super fight.
At 24 years old Butler is a rising youngster, with a power punching style and strong promotional backing. Butler likes to fight on the outside, using his freakishly long arms and reach to keep the bout at range. Although he's not actually a big Middleweight he does look like a rangy Middleweight, though that may be exaggerated by the fact some of his opponents have been small, making him look bigger than he is. One thing that is really obvious from watching him, no matter who he was fighting, was the fact that whilst he is heavy handed his shots don't look particularly crisp. His power is more thudding, dead heavy hands, rather than explosive or elastic power. He often looks pushing his shots a touch. More worrying than his punching technique is the fact he really is open when he fires off shots. A top class fighter will counter him and time him, as Vitalii Kopylenko did earlier this year. As well as his openness he has also been hurt to the body, and Kopylenko actually dropped him with a body shot.
Despite the flaws with Butler he and his team are confident. They travelled to Japan more than 2 weeks before the fight, and Butler has certainly had time to acclimatise to the Japanese conditions, the change in time zone, and the weather. What that won't help with is the atmosphere, and here he is very much going into the dragons den. Whilst Japanese fans are typically respectful to visitors, they are still very behind their local hero's and they will be there cheering on Murata. For Butler to not have the crowd support could be an issue. Especially when he's having to fight off the pressure of Murata, who will be looking to get to his body and take away his legs.
Butler's power might look impressive on paper, but the reality is that this is a huge step up in class for him, and it's hard to imagine that power having the same effect on Murata that it's had on Butler's previous foes. Instead we see Butler starting with a lot of self belief, but having that self belief chipped away at. By the middle rounds Murata's body shots, stiff jab up top, and his pressure, will have destroyed the belief of Butler and will then destroy his dreams.
Prediction - TKO8 Murata
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 23rd, at the Yokohama Arena in Japan, the unstoppable Kenshiro Teraji clashes with Randy Petalcorin for the WBC World championship, as part of Fuji Boxing’s huge triple header show.
Kenshiro Teraji (16-0 / 9 KOs) was introduced to the sport, at a very young age, by his father Hisashi, a former OPBF Light Heavyweight champion. Kenshiro’s amateur career lasted 7 years, from 2007 to 2014, accumulating a record of 58-16. His most significant accomplishments were winning the 68th National Sports Festival as well as placing second at the All Japan Championships.
Turned pro in 2014, he displayed his fighting spirit early on by taking on boxers, way more experienced than him, such as Heri Amol (37-30), Katsunori Nagamine (15-2), Takashi Omae (13-6) and Rolly Sumalpong (11-3). On December of 2015, Shiro was involved in a thriller with Kenichi Horikawa (40-16) for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Despite having only 5 pro fights under his belt, Shiro went toe to toe with the veteran for 10 rounds, which kept the fans at Korakuen on their feet, applauding the efforts of both men. When the fight was over, the young lion left the victor and the new champion.
Moving on from that breakout performance, Teraji made his inaugural defense over one time world title challenger Atsushi Kakutani (19-7). The “Smiling Assassin” was absolutely dominant, knocking Atsushi down thrice, in just the opening round, for the TKO win. He also acquired the vacant OPBF crown when he defeated Toshimasa Ouchi (22-9) and defended it against Lester Abutan (13-10), whom he crushed with a lethal flurry of punches.
The unstoppable Japanese superstar eventually earned his big opportunity, in May of 2017, as he challenged Ganigan Lopez (36-11) for the WBC Light Flyweight World Championship, at the Ariake Colosseum. Both challenger and champion fought valiantly, in a very close encounter, which undoubtedly was the biggest test of Kenshiro’s career at the time. “El Maravilla” had won the belt the previous year from Yu Kimura, and was determined to leave Japan once again with the gold. Kenshiro on the other hand, wasn’t going to let his moment go to waste. It was a hard hitting contest that saw the Japanese fighter taking on a heavy beating but kept on coming back with strong offense of his own. During the last round, Lopez and Kenshiro left it all in the ring, as they engaged in a wild brawl, which was the perfect conclusion to this bout. In the end, the judges scored the match in favor of the local hero, thus declaring him the new world champion, at the age of 25.
Teraji proceeded to defend his title, the same year, twice. His first challenger was former World champion Pedro Guevara (36-3). It was a slow and methodical contest which turned into a slugfest during the last 4 rounds, where he showcased his incredible hand speed and body work, which led him getting the majority decision. His second was Gilberto Pedroza (18-6). It was a one-sided affair that ended violently in the 4th, when the champ stormed Pedroza with a plethora of body shots.
As it was expected, the rematch between Teraji and Lopez was finally set to take place last year at Ota-City’s General Gymnasium. Many fans and critics alike believed that the Mexican was robbed in their previous encounter and expected him to regain his championship. In a stunning turn of events, Kenshiro stopped Lopez in just the second round after he landed a perfectly timed liver shot, leaving the former champion unable to answer the referee’s 10 count, plus putting any doubts of his legitimacy to rest.
A few months later, he squared off with the former IBF World champion Milan Melindo (37-5). Undoubtedly one of his best performances today, Teraji dominated in every round, almost leaving no room for offense to the Filipino, punishing Melindo with fast combinations through out the match, until the end came in the 7th round, via referee stoppage.
After a voluntary defense against Saul Juarez (25-10), Kenshiro put his title on the line against Jonathan Taconing (28-4) this past July. The longtime WBC International champion was riding a 6 fight winning streak and had the highest finishing ratio of any of the Japanese star’s previous foes, with 78.5% of his wins coming via knockout (22 KOs in total). Teraji managed to weather the early storm and counter attack every time Taconing tried to close the distance. Eventually he caught him with a shift right straight to mark his 6th defense. The Smiling Assassin will step into the ring, once more, before the year is over, taking on another opponent from the Philippines.
A 10 year veteran of the sport, Randy Petalcorin (31-3 / 23 KOs) began building his career back in his home country, pilling up wins before taking his first international trip. Up until that point, he had amassed 19 victories, 1 draw and only 1 loss to future World champion Marlon Tapales.
He travelled to Australia in 2013, where he met Ophat Niamprem (35-24). Not the most impressive record, but with 27 KOs under his belt, Ophat wasn’t someone to look past. Petalcorin came in hot and dropped him early on, courtesy of his favorite weapon, the left straight. He stunned him again in the 3rd round with the same move, before going in for the kill, showcasing his uncanny hand speed. They fought each other for a second time, with the exact same result, scoring a knockdown and then overwhelming the Thai fighter with a plethora of punches.
The “Razor” would go on to face Walter Tello (21-11) for the interim WBA Light Flyweight World title, on August of 2014. It was an exciting affair. 7 rounds of nonstop action. Finally the end came when Randy put the man from Panama down with a left uppercut/right hook combo and sealed the deal with another uppercut seconds later, capturing the crown.
His one an only defense was against WBO Asia Pacific champion Yiming Ma (13-7), whom he kept punishing with the left straight, scoring 3 back to back knockdowns in less than two minutes, stopping him in the opening round. Petalcorin would go 8-2 in his next fights, losing a controversial decision to Omari Kimweri (17-5) and to reigning IBF champion Felix Alvarado (35-2).
Petalcorin is obviously not on the same level as Teraji and has struggled against world class opponents. However, he still poses a threat to anyone that goes up against him. He’s quite aggressive, mostly relying on the power of his left hand to do the damage and then swarm in to finish the job. Not the best defensive guy, but because of that, his style makes him an exciting fighter to watch, as he doesn’t mind taking a punch, just so he can dish one back. It’s also worth mentioning that the majority of his knockouts have come within the first 3 rounds (17 KOs).
What people should expect here is a fan friendly contest between 2 men that know how to put on a show. This isn’t going to be a boxing clinic, not by a longshot. Petalcorin will try to end this one quickly, throwing bombs, as he knows that he doesn’t stand a chance against Kenshiro, if this goes to the deep waters. The exchanges should be a thing of beauty to behold as both possess crazy hand speed. Eventually the champ will start taking over and go for the knockout probably before the 6th round. All in all, this is a match you do not want to miss…..or blink.
On December 23rd in Yokohama fight fans get a really interesting card with 3 world title bouts taking place. One of those world bouts could quite fairly be described as a must win bout for both men, who know a loss will likely send them into retirement, and at very least give them little option but to seriously question their future in the sport.
That bout is the IBF Flyweight title bout, which pits current champion Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25) against 2-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi (28-6, 16). Entering the bout the 37 year old Mthalane will be looking to make his third defense, of his second reign, whilst Yaegashi will be be looking to become a 4 time champion, just a couple of months short of his 37th birthday. For Flyweights these two men are ancient and bother are grizzled veterans.
As the champion Mthalane deserves to really be credited for what is a disappointingly over-looked career. He is a 2-time IBF Flyweight champion who first won the title in 2009, when he beat Julio Cesar Miranda, and never actually lost the belt in the ring. Instead of travelling to Thailand to defend it against the then unknown Amnat Ruenroeng for pennies he vacated it. A decision that was a bad one at a time when he needed fights, but one he finally recovered from when he became a 2-time champion in 2018.
Mthalane, from South Africa, is unbeaten in over a decade, with his last loss coming to Nonito Donaire way back in 2008 and since then he has gone 15-0 (10), with notable wins over the likes of Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero, Ricardo Nunez, Muhammad Waseem and most recently Masayuki Kuroda.
In the ring the champion is a crafty but aggressive pressure fighter. He's not the quickest, but he is incredibly sharp, with a very high boxing IQ and unerring accuracy. His composure is excellent and he judges distance brilliantly. He knows his way around the ring, he's a natural there, and he knows how to be aggressive but safe. Notably though he is ageing, and there's always a potential question over father time, especially for a lower weight fighter in their mid 30's. Overall he's not taken much punishment but with close to 240 rounds under his belt he as certainly racked up ring miles, and miles in training.
The challenger, Yaegashi, is a fighter who will be well known to fight fans around the globe for his list of world title bouts, and other thrillers. His first world title bout came way back in 2007, hen he lost to Eagle Den Junlaphan and suffered a nasty injury in that bout. Since then however he has proven to be a warrior, and someone with desire to not only win, but to put on a show. His 2011 bout with Pornsawan Porpramook, which he won to become the WBA Minimumweight champion, was regarded by many as the Fight of the Year, whilst his 2012 clash with Kazuto Ioka was a massive all-Japanese unification bout. He lost to Ioka but would then move up in weight to claim the WBC and Lineal Flyweight title, defending it several times before running into Roman Gonzalez, at his best. A short reign as the IBF Light Flyweight champion followed, thanks to an often forgotten battle with Javier Mendoza. After being blown out by Milan Melindo in 2017 his career looked over, but 3 stoppage wins have seen his team back him for one more big fight.
For those who haven't seen Yaegashi you've missed out on one of the sports most consistently entertaining fighters of the last decade or so. He's dubbed the Fierce Warrior in Japan and not without good reason. Win or lose he's been in violent wars, fight after fight. Win or lose his face has regularly swollen up in a grotesque mess, a proud bad of war worn with honour by Yaegashi. He's a talented boxer, with light feet and great stamina, but often that boxing ability takes a backwards step as he gets involved in brawls, using his hand speed to out fight opponents. As he's gotten older he's had more and more exchanges, and his 2018 bout with Hirofumi Mukai is a great example of the type of war Yaegashi has needlessly involved himself in.
Sadly for Yaegashi this is the type of match up that doesn't look good for him. Against slower footed fighters he can shine, he can get in, he can get his shots off and he can get out. Against fighters with sharp punches and good timing however he is countered, caught coming in and has his facial swelling playing an issue. As he's aged his punch resistance has dropped and this is a major problem against a fighter like Mthalane.
We see this as being an action fight early on, with Yaegashi taking the fight to Mthalane, getting in and out for a round or two. Then we suspect he gets caught, and his warrior mentality kicks in, before Mthalane begins to break him down, and by the middle rounds a swollen, bloodied and battered Yaegashi is finally stopped by the referee, who will have seen enough.
Prediction - TKO7 Mthalane
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.