On July 31st we'll see the long awaited return of WBA Featherweight champion Can Xu (18-2, 3), who has been out of the ring since beating Manny Robles III way back in November 2019. The exciting, all action, Chinese punching machine will not only be back in the ring in July but will also be making his UK debut as he takes on Englishman Leigh Wood (24-2, 14) in Essex, England. For Xu this bout will be his third defense of the title he won in his break out fight, a January 2019 upset win against Jesus M Rojas, whilst the 32 year old Wood will be fighting in his first world title bout to date.
For those who haven't see Xu he really is a perpetual punching machine. He is the man of nightmares for Compubox operators, and the sort of fighter who throws a lot. His shots never a lot on them in terms of power, but he throws, and lands, that many that fighters end up simply being overwhelmed, and go into a defensive shell, unsure of quite how to fight him. His work rate and engine are ridiculously impressive, and whilst he's not the most technical he's so awkward due to his output that few can really take advantage of his flaws. He's also been blessed with real toughness, and began his career as a Light Welterweight before moving down in weight, showing that he's physically strong as well as tough. He can be be out boxed, at least in spurts, but to do it against him for 12 rounds will be a tough, tough ask of anyone in the sport, and anyone who tries better be willing to walk into shots to get their own off.
As mentioned Xu began his career at 140lbs, and he jumped between weights for much of the early part of his career, losing two close decisions in his first 5 bouts. Since then however he has gone 15-0 (3), he has beaten the likes of Hurricane Futa, Chris George, Corey McConnell, Nehomar Cermeno, Jesus M Rokas, Shun Kubo and Manny Robles, to build up a solid, though not startling, resume for himself. He had been hoping for a big 2020, with a potential unification bout against Josh Warrington in the works, before Covid19 put an end to those dreams. Instead of facing Warrington in front of a packed out Elland Road, he instead needs to face Wood in Eddie Hearn's back yard, in front of only a few hundred supposed boxing fans.
Whilst Xu has been sat on the outside looking in Wood has actually managed a couple of fights since the end of 2019, include a razor thin loss to James Dickens in February 2020 and a brilliant domestic win over Reece Mould in February of this year. Those bouts shows that Wood was putting on some of the best performances of his career and despite being in his 30's he's still a fight who is improving, growing more confident and putting together really good results. Something he also did in late 2019 when he upset David Oliver Joyce and it really does seem like his slow burn career has started to peak.
In the ring Wood is a solid fighter, who has proven himself to be a very good British level, maybe even European level, Featherweight with solid power that carries late into his bouts. He's not the most skilled or the quickest, in fact at times he's a little crude, but he's patient, he's heavy handed, and he throws his right hand with bad intent. As we saw against Reese Mould his shots do genuine damage and whether he's coming forward or going backwards he hits hard enough to get the result of anyone he faces, especially when he lands his straight right hand, or his solid left hook. Sadly though his work rate isn't the best, and against a fighter like Xu we think his lack of consistent, high intensity work, will make it very, very hard for him to impress the judges. His shots will be more meaningful, and much more meaty than Xu, but we suspect he simply won't land enough of them.
We think early on Wood will have success, in the first 3 or 4 rounds things will be competitive with Wood holding his own. That'll be until Xu's insane output and work rate begin to turn the fight in his favour and from there on the question won't be who'll win? But instead a case of whether Xu can end up stopping Wood or not. We don't think he will, but we do think Xu will take a very, very wide decision here.
The world of boxing is a strange one at times, and in deep divisions we still get some challengers come along who really don't have any right, at all, to be competing for a world title. That just so happens to be the case this coming Saturday in Belgium as we see unknown Chinese fighter Zhaoxin Zhang (10-1-1, 6) face off with WBA Cruiserweight champion Ryad Merhy (29-1, 24) in what looks like a very, very clear case of a lamb being thrown to the slaughter. In fact it looks like one of the worse world title bout to be stages in 2021.
For those who don't follow the Cruiserweight division, the division is one of the more easy to over-look right now. Since Oleksandr Usyk left the division, it's struggled a little bit for an identity. Mairis Briedis is the best of the bunch, but not a lot separate the chasing pack, including Ilunga Makabu, Yuniel Dorticos, Thabiso Mchunu, Lawrence Okolie, Arsen Goulamirian and the aforementioned Merhy. In fact if you throw that group of fighters into a mini tournament, to decide who Briedis should fight in 2022 you'd end up with a brilliant series of fights. They all have power, they can all fight and yet they all have their own styles, some of which are very different to others, with Okolie being a rangy outside fighter and Dorticos being more of a power punching force of nature.
When it comes to Merhy himself his only loss came more than 3 years ago to Goulamirian and since then he has bounced back with 5 wins, all by stoppage. He has proven that he's a huge puncher, with a real nasty side to him. He takes a shot well, he comes to fight and although he's not the biggest or the smoothest in the division, he's one of the most exciting and among the most intimidating. He is a fighter who should become the face of Belgian boxing over the next few years, and at 28 he really does have time to make a huge mark on the sport.
Aged 25 Zhaoxin Zhang is really an unknown, even among those who follow Chinese boxing. He debuted in 2017 as a Super Middleweight, fighting to a draw and he was 5-1-1 (2) after 7 bouts, with a loss against Zulipikaer Maimaitiali. Since then he has filled out his frame, become a fully fledged Cruiserweight and scored 5 wins in a row. Sadly though they are against, at best, domestic level competition. There is nothing of international significance on his record and nothing to explain why the WBA have got him in their world rankings. In fact Boxrec ranking him at #68 in the division seems like it's still very, very flattering to the Chinese fighter.
The most telling bout for Zhang so far came in 2019 when he cased Chase Haley, a much smaller fighter, and still struggled to get the decision, squeaking by with a majority decision win. Through out that bout he looked clumsy, slow, awkward and very fortunate that Haley lacked the power and skills needed to take him out.
Given how easy Haley had success against Zhang we really can't see this being anything but a knock over job for Merhy, who can likely finish this as early as he wants.
Prediction - Merhy TKO3
On June 19th we'll see Japanese star Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) return to the ring for his first bout of 2021 as he defends his IBF and WBA "super" titles at Bantamweight, and takes on IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20) in Las Vegas. For Inoue this bout serves as his third defense of the unified titles, and sees him look to extend an excellent reign that included winning the WBSS final in 2019 and scoring a fantastic win over Jason Moloney last year. On the other hand the bout also serves as Dasmarinas's first world title bout, outside of IBO "world" title fights, and his US debut, making a huge fight for both men and one that could set the winner up for a massive fight at the end of 2021 against John Riel Casimero or Nonito Donaire.
Coming in to the bout it's fair to say the "Monster" will be close to an unbackable favourite, but is he going to have things all his own way? Or can Dasmarinas manage to ruffle a few feathers and score one of the biggest upsets of 2021? Lets take a look at the fighters and how we see this one going.
It's fair to say that Naoya Inoue is almost universally regarded as one of the best fighters on the planet. The 28 year old is already a 3 weight world champion, having won titles at 108lbs, 112lbs and 118lbs, and he has scored some brilliant wins already during his career. Victories over the likes of Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez, Omar Andres Narvaez, Kohei Kono, Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Nonito Donaire have seen many regard him, in just 20 bouts, as the greatest Japanese boxer of all time. Whilst others might feel Fighting Harada still outshines him, there really is many others in Japan's long and stories history that match up favourable against the "Monster".
In the ring Inoue lives up to the "Monster" tag that he's been dubbed with for years now. He's a huge puncher, with freakish physical strength, an ungodly amount of power in his punches, great movement, stupidly impressive timing, and criminally under-rated boxing skills. When many look at Inoue they see a power puncher, but the reality is that he's an intelligent boxer-puncher, who sets shots up perfectly, finds holes in opponents defenses and exploits them with his timing, speed, boxing brain and positioning. Staying with his offensive work he is also one of, if not the, best body puncher in the sport.
Not only is Inoue a great offensive fighter but he's also got solid defensive skills, and when he needs to he's also got a very impressive chin and a real ability to fight through adversity. In fact it's his ability to fight through adversity that takes him from a great fighter to an incredible one, and is something we've seen since his win over Yuki Sano, where he fought much of the bout one handed. We also, notably, saw it against Nonito Donaire, when he fought much of the bout with double vision and a fractured orbital. He has proven that when the going gets tough, he fights through it.
He is a scary fighter to face.
Dasmarinas on the other hand is much less well known, despite having debuted the same year as Inoue and fighting 13 bouts more than the Japanese star. Whilst part of that is down to what Inoue has done, winning world titles, winnings the WBSS and fighting around the globe, a lot is also down to what Dasmarinas hasn't done. And in reality Dasmarinas hasn't really done much, despite having more than 30 bouts to his name. His real crowning achievement was winning the IBO Bantamweight title in in 2018, when he knocked out Karim Guerfi in brutal fashion, but other than that there isn't too much to talk about on his record. If you want to go through the bones of his record the other notable wins results have been 2014 win over Hayato Kimura, a loss that same year to Lwandile Siyatha, a 2015 win over Jhaleel Payao, a 2018 draw with Manyo Plange and a 2019 win over Kenny Demecillo in an IBF world title eliminator. The reality is that there isn't a lot there.
Despite his record being thin Dasmarinas has shown plenty to like. His KO or Guerfi was a KO of the year contender in 2018, his wins against Payao and Demecillo showed that he was a capable fighter, his loss to Siyatha, a controversial one, showed that he could go into enemy territory and his bout with Plange, although a very lucky draw, showed he could take a shot and didn't stop trying. Sadly however those bouts also show one thing, he can be out boxed. In fact Guerfi made it look easy until he was tagged and Plange was really unfortunate not to get the win when he fought Dasmarinas. There was nothing about Dasmarinas' boxing that would worry any world class fighter. He has power, but lacks in terms of skills and often struggles to set that power up properly. Unfortunately Dasmarinas, due to his wait to get his mandatory title fight, has also seen him out of the ring for 20 months, something that will likely leaving him looking rusty and mess up his timing.
Despite being limited Dasmarinas does have some things going for him. He's a southpaw, always an advantage, and he's also notable taller than Inoue, by around 2" or 3", with a longer reach and natural size advantages. On paper this should be something that Dasmarinas backers are going to like, however we would dare say this is not an advantage against Inoue. He chews up southpaws and taller men. This was seen when he smashed Narvaez and Payano, both southpaws, and guys like Yoan Boyeaux and Jamie McDonnell, both much bigger men. His body shots are brutal and break down tall guys.
With history in mind we suspect that Dasmarinas's success will be very, very limited. Inoue will take a few moments to have a look at the Filipino, then begin to pressure him, going to his body, and look to land single, hard, powerful shots. Breaking down the Filipino.
Inoue has suggested he was wanting to break down Dasmarinas, but in all honesty we see the breaking down process being a quick, explosive process, rather than a slow one and wouldn't be surprised if this was over in 3 or 4 rounds. Against a Dasmarinas who has been more active then this, maybe, would have lasted longer, but with his inactivity, and with Inoue wanting to make a statement on his return to the US, this could be over very, very quickly.
Prediction - TKO4 Inoue
One thing that was undeniable about the boxing scene in 2020, was that it was a year that messed up the calendar, significantly, and saw so many bouts being cancelled or postponed. Due to the effects of Covid19 a lot of major names in the sport either didn't fight at all in 2020, or fought just once, as their careers stagnated for a year. Thankfully it appears that 2021 will be the year that things get back to normal, at least in the last few months of the year.
Two men that were massively affected by the Covid19 pandemic were WBC Bantamweight champion Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12) and his mandatory challenger Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26), who had a planned bout cancelled when Oubaali tested positive for Covid19. Donaire himself would also test positive for the virus, though it appears his positive test was likely a false positive, as he got a negative response in a confirmatory test that he and his team paid for.
With neither man fighting last year, and with Oubaali having a planned March defense cancelled as well, neither man has actually fought since November 2019, when they both featured on the same card over in in Japan. That card saw Donaire lose to Naoya Inoue, in the WBSS Bantamweight final, and Oubaali beat Naoya's younger brother Takuma Inoue to retain the WBC title. Following those bouts in Japan, and the cancellation of an eliminator featuring Luis Nery who failed to make weight, Donaire was made the mandatory challenger to Oubaali, in what looked like a great bout for early 2020. Before the pandemic left it's mark on the sport's calendar.
Despite the long lay off for both men, and the issues of 2020, we'll get to see the two men clash this coming weekend in arguable the best Bantamweight bout currently on the schedule, and one of the most interesting bouts the division has seen in well over a year. It's a bout neither man can afford to lose, and a bout that sets the winner up for a potential unification bout, possible with Naoya Inoue or Johnriel Casimero.
So with that back story out of the way how do we see this bout? And what can we say about the two men involved?
The defending champion, Oubaali, is a 34 year old southpaw who was a former amateur standout before turning professional in 2014. He started his career well and picked up notable wins over Hiram Irak Diaz, Julio Cesar Miranda, Alejandro Hernandez and Mark Anthony Geraldo in his first on his way to a world title fight. When he finally got his world title shot he beat Rau'shee Warren for the then vacant WBC title, which he has now defended twice, stopping Arthur Villanueva and scoring the aforementioned win over Takuma Inoue in 2019. For a man with just 17 bouts his resume is genuinely solid, not spectacular but really solid. Sadly however for a man who is now in his mid 30's, in a division where most fighters are consider on the slide at the age of 30, his careers underwhelming, and it's clear he will need to not just win here, but rack up other wins to live up to his full potential.
In the ring Oubaali is a solid technician. A really good technical boxer, with under-rated power, a surprising physicality, very good speed, sharp punches and good work rate. He is, however, small at the weight, has questionable stamina, and there are perhaps some questions about his durability. To date he's yet to face an actual world class puncher, and he was hurt against Inoue in the later rounds, as Takuma surprisingly made the very competitive late on, despite what the scorecards for that bout suggest.
When it comes to Nonito Donaire it's fair to say there it little that hasn't already been said about the Filipino legend and future Hall of Famer. He is a legitimate legend and there is no denying that. Aged 38 Donaire has been there, done that and got the T-shirt. He made his professional debut way back in February 2001, when his first world title in 2007, when he upset Vic Darchinyan, and became one of the few major stars of the lower weight classes. He managed to win world titles at Flyweight, Bantamweight, Super Bantamweight and Featherweight, while scoring notable wins over a who's who, of who. He has beaten Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Raul Martinez, Rafael Concepcion, Hernan Marquez, Volodymyr Sydorenko, Fernando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Simpiwe Vetyeka and Ryan Burnett. Despite picking up losses along the way he has one of the best resumes in the sport today. A truly brilliant resume.
In the ring Donaire has changed his style over the years, but some things have remained the same. Over the years he has tried boxing southpaw, and was once very light on his feet, but as he's aged he's become less reliant on his speed, with his legs and footwork both slowing, in fact he's almost a flat-footed fighter. Instead of relying on speed he's relied on his physicality, size, power and strength, and he's a huge Bantamweight. Last year he dwarfed Inoue in their bout and will tower over Oubaali here. He's strong, tough, with a dynamite left hook, a really impressive chin, thunderous jab, good technical skills and excellent timing. Given he's now 38 it's hard to know what he's got left in the tank, but given his performance last time out, against Inoue, there is a feeling he may well have one more big performance left before he calls time on his career.
It's hard to know what both men will be bringing to the ring here. Both have been out of the ring for more than 18 months, both old are for Bantamweights and whilst Oubaali is younger it'll be interesting to see how he looks following his legitimate bout with Covid19.
At their best it would be almost impossible to favour Oubaali. Even now it's hard to pick the Moroccan born French fighter, who's key advantages are being younger than Donaire and being quicker. We suspect he lacks the fire power to get Donaire's attention, he'll be the much smaller man, he'll have to work incredibly hard to get in and get without eating Donaire's stiff jab and potent left hooks. Especially if he tires again as he did against Takuma Inoue. If a tired Oubaali, perhaps even an Oubaali feeling the effects of his 2020 illness, show up, this could be a very, very tough night for him.
That's not to say Oubaali can't win. He could out work and out fiddle Donaire early on, then see out the 12 rounds fighting on the retreat. We can see that happening, but we're not expecting it. Instead we see Oubaali starting well, but tiring through the fight and then being stopped late as the power, size, and strength of Donaire wears him down.
Predictionm - TKO10 Donaire.
The Minimumweight division over the last 16 months has been frustratingly quiet, with very, very little happening since the start of the Covid19 pandemic. It's been the most among the most frustrating division in the sport with champions being pretty inactive and challengers being inactive, forcing the division to almost stand still at times.
We get the the WBC title and the IBF title have changed hands since the start of 2020 but since the start of 2020 we have only seen two IBF title fights a single WBC, WBA "super", WBO and WBA "Regular" title fight. That's at world level. We have also seen just a single Japanese title fight and single Japanese Youth Youth title fight in the division. And we've also had no bouts for the OPBF or WBO Asia Pacific titles showing just how frustrated the division has become in the pandemic era.
Thankfully it seems like this could be set to change through what's left of 2021 and the division might finally begin to come alive.
Kicking off the potential revival of the Minimumweight division we'll see world title action this coming Saturday as WBA "super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7) defends his title against fellow Thai Pongsaklek Sithdabnij (23-6-1, 13). This is a rare "Bloodline Battle", a world title bout between two Thais, and sadly it looks like a massive down grade from the last one, which incidentally saw Panya Pradabsri dethrone Wanheng Menayothin for the WBC title. Unlike that bout however, there will be significantly less international interest here, and very, very few will give the under-dog any kind of a chance. At all.
The unbeaten 30 year old champion, also known as Thammanoon Niyomtrong, has held some version of the WBA Minimumweight title since beating Carlos Buitrago in October 2014, for the "interim" title. Back that he was an exciting unbeaten hopeful stepping up his competition quickly, and looked like a breath of fresh air, with a unique fighting name. Since then he has claimed the WBA "regular" and "super" titles and become one of the few foundations for which the division has been built around, along with Wanheng. Sadly though he's also proven to be a very frustrating fighter to follow and someone who is lacking that extra gear, or may more exactly lacking the willingness to move into that top gear. In many ways he's of the same mentality, although different style, to Dmitry Bivol. It's clear he's talented but as long as he's winning he doesn't care about the style in which he wins.
Knockout is a talented fighter, he's a clean puncher, he's got solid defense, a good ring IQ and he knows his way around the ring. There is no denying his talent. This guy can box. Sadly though he's not very exciting. He lacks power, he lacks tenacity and work rate, and seems to also struggle with stamina. He keeps a predictable pace through much of the bout, coming alive early on, and controlling behind his under-rated foot and clean counter puncher. Earlier in his career he was much more exciting, but seems to have willingly tuned that down to fight safely, and to just defend his title, without creating any fuss or drama. In fact the most drama his recent bouts have had came from when ArAr Andales took the fight to him and we went to the scorecards early due to a cut. That fight aside there been no drama in a Knockout bout for years.
Again that's not to say the champion can't fight, he can. He's beaten Byron Rojas twice, Carlos Buitrago twice, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xiong Zhao Zhong. He's just not exciting.
Pongsaklek Sithdabnij, also known as Siridech Deebook, is a 28 year old fighter who really isn't too well known. In fact fans who don't follow boxing outside of Asia will almost certainly know nothing about him, other than that he has taken the fighting name of a former Flyweight great, And there's good reason for that. There's not too much to talk about when it comes to Pongsaklek, despite managing to turn his career around, massively, he's not really proven himself as being ready for a world title fight. In fact he's almost certainly getting this fight due to Covid19 restrictions regarding travel in and out of Thailand.
The challenger debuted in 2009 and began his career with 3 straight losses, and was 0-3-1 after 4 bouts. Following that stumble he managed to find his groove in 2015, including a major upset over the then 22-0 Kongfah Nakornluang, winning 11 in a row to get his career going. Since then things haven't been plain sailing however and he's gone 12-3, losing to Yudel Reyes, Kompayak Porpramook and Marco John Rementizo. Not exactly Murderers' Row. He has also struggled in other bouts, narrowly over-coming Kompayak in a rematch, limping past Romshane Sarguilla, and edging a bout with Seksan Khumdee. Again not exactly the competition of an upcoming world title challenger.
In the ring Pongsaklek is the type of fighter who looks like he's always doubting himself. He's not quick, sharp, powerful or particularly polished. He's young and hungry but lacks the tools to really dominate fights. Against Kompayak for example, he was lucky the former world champion was heading towards his 40's. He doesn't throw a lot unless he absolutely needs to, he doesn't look confident and he certainly doesn't have fight changing power. Notably he has fought at Flyweight in the past, and is going to be big at Minimumweight, but he's not shown himself to be someone who uses his size well. When he does get more aggressive, and to his credit he can dig deep and up his work rate, he looks very sloppy and doesn't have that clean, crisp quality to his punches that we want to see at world level. He's just, sadly, very average in pretty much every way.
Given what we've seen from both men we expect Knockout to start well, take control early and then simply out box Pongsaklek, who will look to move through the gears, but will be sloppy in his offense, will be left chasing Knockout a lot, and will be countered, tied up and hitting the air a lot in the second half of the bout.
Although this is a world title bout at 105lbs between two Thai's we're not expecting a great fight. We are expecting a bit of a sloppy, dull, clear decision for the champion, who needs a run out after more than a year of inactivity.
Prediction - UD12 Knockout CP Freshmart
The growth of the DAZN service as a distribution network for boxing is still something of a work in progress, and there are still a lot of areas where the service needs to improve, with the commentary being one of the most notable. Despite that the service has been fantastic for a number of reasons, and one of those is the fact the service seems to have taken a very clear interest in picking up fighters from the lower weight classes. In the last 12 months alone we have seen 3 of the 4 Light Flyweight world champions compete on the service and that is something that we didn't expect to see, but something we're really happy about. Finally a major outlet is shining a light on one of the most over-looked divisions in the sport.
DAZN's foray into the Light Flyweight division saw IBF champion Felix Alvarado beat the fight out of Deejay Kriel in January and saw WBA "Super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi defeat Axel Aragon Vega in a brilliant tear up in March. On May 8th we get the chance to see another champion, this time WBO champion Elwin Soto (18-1, 12) in action as he takes on Japanese veteran Katsunari Takayama (32-8-0-1, 12). Like the two other two recent bouts in the division this could end up being a really brutal and thrilling bout between two men at very different stages of their careers.
Of the two men American audiences will likely be more familiar with Soto, especially newer fans to the sport. Soto won his WBO title on American soil when he stopped Angel Acosta, in his US debut, and has since defended the title twice, both in the US, with decision wins over Edward Heno and Carlos Buitrago. In his title win he looked talented, but flawed, and was struggling with stamina late in the bout, until hurting Acosta, who had been dropped in round 3, and forcing a controversial 12th round finish. Since then he has again looked more like a youngster who is growing into being a champion, rather than someone close to being the complete product, with both of his defenses leaving plenty to be desired. And whilst that sounds negative, the reality is that Soto seems like the sort of fighter who maybe won a world title before he was really ready for it, and needs to take another year or two to mature into the fighter he will become.
Although not the complete article yet Soto is still a monster. He's got huge power, an impressive chin, an an economical style. He presses forward, he's strong and tough and is still really rounding off his boxing skillset fight by fight. Although still improving Soto is slow of foot, sometimes a bit too methodical, and happy to come forward behind a tight guard rather than letting shots fly. A very stark comparison to the likes of Kyoguchi and Alvarado. He looks easier to outbox than the other two, due to not working as much, but is just as dangerous and strong as the other two, and arguably has the biggest upside given his young age.
Although we have been impressed by Soto at times, it is worth noting that faltering Carlos Buitrago ran him a lot closer than the scores cards suggest, and Edward Heno also gave him a very tough bout. He's the type of fighter who, against someone with a lot of quick movement will struggle to shine.
If you're a long term fan of the lower weights Katsunari Takayama needs no introduction at all. However it's fair to say that most fight fans aren't long term watches of the lowest weights and have sadly missed out on the career of the "Lighting Kid" who is now edging towards his 38th birthday and is not the fighter he used to be. At his best he was a whirring dervish of activity, willing to skip around the ring, let shots go in bunches, and use a lot of in and out movement, without too much worry of what was coming his way. He had a brilliant chin and could rely on it when he needed to, and was able to stand and trade when he wanted. His style made for some brilliant bouts against the likes of Yutaka Niida, Francisco Rodrgiuez Jr, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Jose Argumedo among others. He was also a serial belt collector winning the WBC, the WBA interim title and the WBO and IBF titles, twice. All at Minimumweight. Sadly it's hard to know just how good he is going to be at Light Flyweight.
The bigger issue for Takayama isn't so much the move up in weight, he did fight at Light Flyweight early in his career, but instead his skin. During his career the accumulated punishment has left his skin very paper like, and he has been cut numerous times during the later part of his career. In fact 3 of his last 5 bouts have ended via technical decision, dating back more than 5 years. Aged 37, moving up in weight, with paper skin, taking on a big puncher, things don't look good for Takayama.
Saying all that however Takayama hasn't taken much punishment recently. In 2016 he retired before chasing a place at the Olympics. He failed in his pursuit for a Tokyo 2020 place and returned to professional boxing last year, putting on a brilliant performance against former 2-time world challenger, at Light Flyweight, Reiya Konishi. That bout showed that Takayama still has his legs and output to go, at least for 6 rounds, though of course it's a very different proposition over 12 rounds against a big puncher like Soto.
At his best Takayama would have been a stylistic nightmare for Soto. His non stop movement, ability to take a shot and high output would have been a very tough assignment for a man like Soto, who is powerful but low activity and slow of foot. This current version of Takayama however is a very different kettle of fish, and we're really not sure if Takayama's face can hold hold up or whether his legs can go 12 rounds.
We would genuine love to see Takayama win. It would be one final chapter in a career that has been amazing to follow and really seen him tread a track rarely seen by a Japanese fighter, as he actively pursued IBF and WBO titles. The reality however is that father time and a long career has probably left Takayama with only a slim chance here.
Our expectation is that Takayama starts well, uses his feet, and stops Soto from getting set, and getting his shots off. Using a tactic similar to what Carlos Buitrago did, but busier. As the fight goes on however the power and physical strength of Soto will take over and Mexican will leave Takayama busted open and force the doctor to wave off the bout.
The real question, for us, is what will cause those cuts, and when will the bout be stopped? Takayama has been involved in head clashes and if one of those occurs it would be a surprise, at all, to see a technical decision here. On the other hand Soto is a big puncher and there's a real chance that his punches will bust up Takayama and force a stoppage.
Prior to the end we expect Takayama to set a high pace, at least early on, and force Soto to fight at a much higher tempo than usual. We expect a lot of leather to be thrown here and for the bout to be, yet another, fantastic Light Flyweight action bout. Expect regular exchanges, with Soto landing the heavier blows and Takayama landing at a high volume. Sadly though it's hard to see the bout ending in any other way, other than Takayama wearing a crimson mask.
For gamblers out there, Takayama by technical decision might be worth a shot, but a slim one. For everyone else, the obvious outcome is Soto by TKO, and that's the one we'll be picking.
Prediction - TKO9 Soto (cuts)
Over the last few years we have had some real frustrations at Light Heavyweight, where we have a lot of potentially interesting match ups to be made. Sadly however the bouts to define the division hasn't taken place, and instead two main fighters in the division have haf major issues securing the career defining bout they need. One of those is the much avoided Artur Beterbiev, who punches like a truck and has long been avoided, and the other is Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11), who is skilled but lacks in terms drawing power and excitement.
Bivol has been the WBA "Super" champion for several years now, and has a string of good victories to his name, including the likes of Sullivan Barrera, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr, but has failed to land a massive monster fight. That wait for a career defining bout will need to continue, but thankfully he is in action on May 1st as he looks to keep his WBA "Super" title and his unbeaten record in tact. Sadly though his up coming defense is certainly not one to get the pulse racing. Instead of sharing the ring with a leading divisional fighter he'll be up against Englishman Craig Richards (16-1-1, 9).
The talented Bivol, who was born in Kyrgyzstan and now fights out of Russia, is one of the most technically correct boxers in the Light Heavyweight division and also, potentially, the biggest threat to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. In fact Bivol has repeatedly offered himself as a potential "Canelo" opponent and offered to drop to Super Middleweight for that bout. Whilst technically very skilled he is, somewhat boring to watch and that seems to be something that he doesn't care about. He's happier to win a dull decision, boxing his way for 12 rounds, and controlling every minute of the bout than to take any risks and give fans anything exciting and memorable.
In terms of quality few match Bivol. He's got a brilliant jab, his understanding of the ring is top notch, he moves around the ring with a lot of ease and sets a high out put. But he keeps everything pretty much the same. He'll set the table with his jab, and then look to follow through with the occasional power shot, all at range. On the inside he holds, forces the referee to reset, and does the same in an attempt to keep the bout being fought as his bout. There is next to no drama in his bouts, which is a shame as early on he was exciting and fought like a man with a point to prove. He began his career 13-0 (11), but recently has been putting on controlled, but dominant displays against some very decent, but unspectacular, competition.
His challenger is much less well known and much less proven. In fact fans outside of the UK probably haven't seen too much of the 30 year old Richards, who has fought all 18 of his bouts in the UK. As with nay British fighters guys early career was relatively unremarkable, with fights against a string of limited journeymen, though his did show enough to be moved towards bigger and better domestic fights, fighting for the British title in his 11th bout. That was a huge step up, against Frank Buglioni, and he gave a really good account of himself, despite losing. Since then he has gone unbeaten, won the British title and proven himself as a solid domestic level fighter. Of course the step up from British level to world level is huge, and despite winning the British title there's still a fair argument that he's only the 5th best in the UK.
Before we get on to Richard's style we will quickly discuss the British Light Heavyweight scene, which is even more frustrating than the global scene. The UK has 5 very good Light Heavyweights. Callum Johnson, Josgua Buatsi, Lydon Arthur, Anthony Yarde and Craig Richards. From those 5 men we've only had one bout between two of them, and that only came last year. We've also seen two of the fighters fight for world titles, and soon to be 3, without any of them proving they are the best domestically. The division, domestically, has so much talent and potential, but politics has really left things feeling underwhelming.
In the ring Richards is a big, tall, rangy fighter. He looks incredibly relaxed and calm in the ring and has real patience behind his work. He's not the quickest, but he is a smart fighter, and a smart, tall fight can be a nightmare for anyone. His footwork is solid, and he uses it will to create distance, but he's not the quickest on his feet. What he does really well is he allows bouts to be fought at a slow pace. He's not an exciting fighter, he's not a fun fighter to watch, but he's technically very solid, with a sharp jab, good counter punching and he applies very intelligent pressure, without taking risks. He's physically imposing and that allows him to pressure in the way he does. Although certainly not a puncher he does have some sting on his shots and his TKO of Shakan Pitters last year was very impressive.
Sadly for Richards this is a monster step up and we think that the step up will be far, far, far too much for him. His patient pressure style has success at domestic level, but we can't see that carrying up to world level, especially not against someone as skilled, strong and focused as Bivol.
We expect to see Richards have some moments early on. He's awkward enough to have some success. But as the rounds go on and the tock ticks away Bivol will get a read on his man, then begin to break him down, grind away at him, and, eventually, beat him into submission. In fact we wouldn't be surprised at all if Bivol manages to score his first stoppage in 3 years and ends a 4 fights decision win.
Prediction - TKO9 Bivol
In 2020 we expect to see a lot of long running saga's come to an end, such as the recent over-due IBF Super Flyweight mandatory title fight between Jerwin Ancajas v Jonathan Javier Rodriguez and the on going WBC Bantamweight title situation between Nordine Oubaali and Nonito Donaire, which was ordered in 2019. Perhaps now saga, however, is quite like the one between Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) and Tetsuya Hisada (34-10-2, 20), which is now set to take place around 4 years after it was first scheduled! And for honours much, much higher than it would have been for the first time around!
For those who haven't followed the Japanese scene until very recently this bout was originally pencilled when Kenshiro was the Japanese and OPBF Light Flyweight champion, and was supposed to be a mandatory of the Japanese title, as part of the Champion Carnival in 2017. The bout was cancelled at short notice when Kenshiro was able to secure a WBC world title fight with Ganigan Lopez, which he went on to win via majority decision. Whilst Kenshiro became a world champion things didn't stand still for Hisada who ended up beating Kenichi Horikawa in a bloody battle, marred by repeated headclashes, to win the Japanese title and worked his way into a WBA world title fight in 2019 with Hiroto Kyoguchi, losing a competitive decision to Kyoguchi.
If that was chapter 1 in the "Kenshiro Vs Hisada rivalry", and if that ended well for both parties, chapter 2 was a little bit different. The men were to fight late last year, with the bout essentially the worst kept secret in Japanese boxing. It however fell apart weeks before it supposed to take place after news revealed Kenshiro has been involved in a drunken incident that resulted in him being suspended by the JBC. That left a sour taste in the mouth of Hisada and saw some fans question the behaviour of Kenshiro, who in had committed his drunk acts in the summer, well before the bout was supposed to take place but the act hadn't come to light until much later.
Now, with more than 4 years history between the two men, but no bouts, we are now, finally, set to see the two men face off.
Of the two fighters it's Kenshiro, the current and long reigning WBC Light Flyweight champion, who is the much more well known fighter. The baby faced 29 year old is one of the longest reigning active world champions in the sport, having held his title since 2017 and running up 7 defenses. He is from a boxing family, with his father Hisashi being a former Japanese and OPBF champion, and he looks a natural in the ring. Though that should be little surprise for a fighter who was a good amateur and seemed for success when he turned professional in 2014. In the professional ranks he has been moved aggressively but smartly, and won WBC Youth, Japanese and OPBF titles before taking the WBC title in 2017. Since winning his world title he has moved from strength to strength and has visibly grown as a fighter since winning the belt in his 10th professional bout.
Kenshiro is, unlike many active Light Flyweights, a boxer first and foremost, with a style that is based around his speed, movement, and jab, rather than his power and physicality, like many of the top guys in the division. He looks to set the tone with his foot work and jab, picking holes in opponents defenses, making them make errors to counter. He has one of the most under-rated jabs in the sport, with it being quick, sharp and accurate, and also some of the over-looked punch picking of any active fighter. He picks his shots well, whether he's on the front foot or back foot. Given his record, and style, it would be fair to assume he lacked power, but that isn't true and he has stopped 5 of his last 6, Ganigan Lopez, Milan Melindo, Jonathan Taconing and Randy Petalcorin. He can punch, but he doesn't base his style around that power, rather allowing that power to aid his boxing.
Aged 36 Tetsuya Hisada is a true veteran of the sport. With 46 professional bouts to his name is among the most experienced active Japanese fighters and his career dates all the way back to 2003, when he was still a teenager. His record, on paper, isn't all that impressive, but like a fine wine Hisada bloomed late into his career, as he finally found the weight that was suitable for him, a style that worked for him, and gained the experienced he needed to become a success. Proof of that can be seen by looking at Hisada's career after 32 professional bouts. At that point he was aged 30 at the time and was sporting a record of 21-9-2 (11). Since then he has gone 13-1, with his only loss coming in a hotly contest bout with Hiroto Kyoguchi. It's also not like he was padding his record either, instead he beat the likes of Shun Kosaka, who came runner up in the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year, Hayato Yamaguchi, who was was a former Japanese title challenger, Atsushi Kakutani, a former world title challenger, and Kenichi Horikawa, who is currently the OPBF Light Flyweight champion.
Many of Hisada's early losses came due to him fighting above his natural weight. He picked a number of losses at Super Flyweight and Flyweight. And a lot of those were close, with 4 split decision losses.
In recent years Hisada has settled at Light Flyweight and become of of the more over-looked fighters in the sport. Hisada defies logic. Despite being the wrong side of 30 he appears to have fantastic stamina, fights at a high work rate, throws a lot of leather, but does so in an educated manner. It's clear he uses his experience well, knowing when to go forward and when to back off. Unlike so many fighters who like to come forward he actually uses his jab as a key weapon, and even doubles it up nicely, whilst looking to line up his straight right hand. Despite fighting at a solid tempo Hisada also does some little things very well. He moves his head a lot, applies pressure behind good footwork and has under-rated power, something his record doesn't reflect due to his numerous bouts above his best fighting weight. Sadly though he is ancient for a Light Flyweight, and having been out of the ring since late 2019 we do wonder what ring rust and father time will have done to him. It's also a massive shame Hisada didn't get the big fights until late in his career, something that is understandable given his losses but still a shame given his ability.
In this bout we're expecting to see some of the history between the two men come out, and we expect to see a frustrated Hisada looking to start fast, with emotion, anger and a sense of resentment coming out. He's usually a calm, collected character, but he was clearly disappointed last year, and we think some of that will come out here. Sadly for himself that would be a mistake, as Kenshiro will pick him away at any error he makes.
Even without the errors this is not a good stylistic match up for Hisada. His pressure works brilliantly against fighters who stay still, or back on to the ropes and don't have the educated feet and counter punching of Kenshiro. Here however he's up against a brilliant counter puncher, a smart mover, and someone who will soak up the pressure, target the counters and look to break him down. Kenshiro will look to use Hisada's strengths against him.
For Hisada to win he needs to not only pressure, but also physically bully Kenshiro. His activity is good, but he needs to get the bout on the inside, completely cut the distance, and don't let Kenshiro establish his rhythm. As soon as Kenshiro finds his groove it will be very, very hard for Hisada to work his way into the bout. If Hisada doesn't make a big impact early, in an educated fashion, he will fall a long way behind.
Given Kyoguchi wasn't able to stop Hisada the popular view will be that Kenshiro won't be able to. We however feel that Kenshiro will be able to, late on, as he looks to make a statement, and lay down the gauntlet to the other champions. He is talking about wanting to unify and we suspect he'll want to make a big statement here, to do that, he needs to stop Hisada.
We are expecting Hisada to come forward early, have mixed success as Kenshiro finds his range, and through the middle rounds Kenshiro will begin to dominate with his counters, before forcing a late stoppage in a complete performance against an excellent, and over-looked, challenger.
Prediction - TKO10 Kenshiro
(Image credit - Boxingnews.jp - from the announcement of the 2017 Champion Carnival bouts, Kenshiro and Hisada are both in the front line)
Way back in October 2019 we previewed an IBF Super Flyweight title bout between champion Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22) and mandatory challenger Jonathan Javier Rodriguez (22-1, 16), with the two men set to clash on November 2nd. That bout was then cancelled, days before taking place when Rodriguez was unable to enter the US. The bout was supposed to be on a top Rank card and instead of taking on Rodriguez we saw Ancajas defeat late replacement Miguel Gonzalez a month later.
Now, 16 months later, we are finally getting the bout on a PBC show, in Connecticut, with the bout still looming as a mandatory defense of Ancajas. Sadly the Covid19 pandemic ended up affecting both men. It kept Ancajas out of the ring for the entire of 2020, kept Rodriguez out of the ring for much of 2020 and forced this bout, which had been planned for the year, to get pushed back. Again. Despite that we are now here. We are on the verge of the fight, again, and we'll again take a look at what to expect.
More than 4 years ago we saw Jerwin Ancajas announce himself as one to watch as he dominated Teiru Kinoshita on the Manny Pacquiao Vs Jeff Horn under-card. The performance was a break out showing and was Ancajas' second defense of the IBF Super Flyweight title he had won the previous year. It was the type of performance that he needed on the biggest showcase of his career. Soon afterwards he was given more big opportunities, facing Jamie Conlan in Ireland and then making 4 defenses in the US as he quickly became one of the notable Super Flyweights of his era.
Blessed with good looks, fantastic hand speed, spiteful power and a good boxing brain Ancajas seemed to have it all. Except for competition. Sadly for him the Super Flyweight division was moving on around him, the likes of Naoyta Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Donnie Nietes and Kazuto Ioka were all off limits to him. Rather than those divisional stars Ancajas was stuck facing the best of the rest, , like the aforementioned Kinoshita and Conlan, along with Jonas Sultan and Alejandro Santiago Barrios. The inability, or in some cases unwillingness, to face the top dogs in the division has seen his reign being a long one but one that is relatively low profile and not one that has made him into the star he should have been.
Sadly his B, and sometimes C, rate challengers haven't helped Ancajas look great. It's a shame as the 29 year old Filipino is a fantastic boxer-puncher. He's gorgeously smooth in the ring, throws wonderful combinations, has an excellent understanding of the ring, and combines skills, speed and power wonderfully. He is also a big kid at the weight and a southpaw, making him a nightmare.
Aged 25 Rodriguez is an up and comer who is looking to announce himself on to the world stage after fighting his entire career, so far, on the Mexican national scene. In fact this is only really the third time he has taken on a fighter of some note. Thankfully though his career has picked up in recent years, and his first 21 bouts were pretty much bouts where he learned on the job without making much fuss. In more recent bouts however he has beaten former world title contenders Felipe Orucuta and Julian Yedras, and established himself a lot more in 2 fights than he did in his previous 21.
Despite a couple of solid wins Rodriguez hasn't done all that much to really earn a world title fight, especially not given the talent in the Super Flyweight division, but the IBF will IBF and he is the IBF mandatory with only a couple of notable wins on his record. Which in fairness to the IBF is 2 more than some other recent mandatory challengers of theirs.
One notable thing about Rodriguez, and why he may be dangerous for Ancajas, is the relative lack of footage of him. From the footage that is available Rodriguez looks strong, tough, and aggressive. Like many Mexican fighters he comes to fight and he comes with a lot of desire and hunger. Sadly though he is rather methodical, a big slow, and a little bit clumsy. He looks like he could be hit, a lot, and may be stepping up too much from the competition he has faced so far. He's the sort of fight who should make for some fan friendly fights, but he looks like he would struggle with any of the top guys in the division. Including Ancajas.
The pressure and aggression of Rodriguez could make this fun and interesting, and if he can take sustained punishment whilst continuing to come forward he could be an absolute nightmare for Ancajas. We have seen Ancajas struggle on the inside, when fighters have got close to him, and if Rodriguez can get close and rough him up the Mexican might have a real chance. Especially give the fact Ancajas has been out of the ring since December 2019.
We suspect the speed, movement and skills for Ancajas will be the key. He'll neutralise the pressure, lure Rodriguez in, and tag him. Repeatedly. Rodriguez will not show any quit, and will be looking to make a fight of things in each of the 12 rounds, but we see Ancajas picking his spots and racking up the rounds en route to a clear decision.
Interestingly the delay for this fight may end up helping Rodriguez, but we still don't think it will be anywhere near enough to get him a victory here.
Prediction - UD12 Ancajas
April 2021 looks set to be an incredible month for fight fans, with a wonderful mix of high profile fights at the top level of the sport and bouts at the lower level, and featuring everything in between. It is a month that really should deliver great action week after week and it kicks off in great fashion this coming Saturday. That's in part due to a bout we've been looking forward to for a little over a year now. That's a match up between unified WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight world champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6) and mandatory challenger Ryosuke Iwasa (23-7, 17), who also enters as the "interim" IBF champion.
The bout will see two of the best 122lb fighters clash in what is a genuine excellent match up, and it's one that should have fans from all over the globe tuning in. That's not just because of the match up it's self, which is genuinely brilliant, but because of what it means for the division in general. The winner will be in the mix for bouts against the likes of Luis Nery, Stephen Fulton, Ronnie Riose, Brandon Figueroa and Carlos Castro, among many, many others.
Of the two men the more impressive has been 26 year old Uzbek Akhmadaliev, known as "MJ". He is, after just 8 fights, a unified champion and was a former standout amateur who has set his sights high and raced away to the top, whilst becoming one of the main faces at the forefront of Uzbek boxing. He is a fighter who has looked to prove a point every step of the way during his boxing career and has already proven himself as a top level fighter. In just 8 bouts!
Before turning professional Akhmadaliev had reportedly had over 300 amateur bouts, winning the vast majority. He had won medals at the World Amateur Championships, Olympics, Asian Championships and World Youth Championships, and had been one of the standout fights on the amateur scene. He had, however, got a reputation for being the bridesmaid and not the bride, falling short in the business end of competitions. As a professional however he has used that amateur experience and the skills he learned in the unpaid ranks to challenge himself and make a name for himself.
In just 8 bouts Akhmadaliev has already beaten the likes of Isaaz Zarate, Carlos Carlson and most notably Daniel Roman, who he beat in January 2020 for the unified titles. He has proven he can box, punch, brawl, and fight at a high tempo for 12 rounds. He has proven more in just 8 bouts, adding up to a total of 40 professional rounds, than many fights do in a career. We'll admit we thought the step up to facing Roman was too soon, but he proved us wrong and it's going to be very hard to bet against him in the future given how he performed there.
Although he is hugely impressive there are still some questions to ask of Akhmadaliev. He has impressed with his ability to box or fight, and he has shown a good chin, great work rate and highly impressive stamina, though we do wonder what happens when he's forced to chase a bout, and it'll be interesting to see what happens when he's cut, or in genuine trouble. If we ever see him in real trouble. We also wonder what he's like against a big puncher, and Iwasa does have power, as well as what he's like against a dangerous south, with his previous southpaw opponents being relatively limited. So far however he has impressed fight after fight and shown the ambition and drive that has already made us huge fans of his.
Ryosuke Iwasa is a 31 year old veteran of the professional ranks, with 30 professional bouts to his name, and over 60 amateur bouts. He is already a former world champion and a man who was long tipped to be a star in Japan, though has failed to reach the heights expected of him when he turned professional. Despite not being the fighter many hoped he would be he has managed a very respectable career and is certainly not a fighter who has failed in the sport. He has, however, been inconsistent. When he's on point he looks fantastic, but there are a number of underwhelming performance during his career as well.
For Japanese fans Iwasa made his name, originally, on the amateur stage where he went 60-6 (42) and picked up the High School Triple crown. This saw him turning professional with high expectations on his shoulders. Under the guidance of former world champion Celes Kobayashi he was moved quickly and at the end of 2010 he had secured a Japanese title fight as part of the Champion Carnival, by winning the Strongest Korakuen and becoming the MVP. Sadly for him his Japanese title fight, in 2011, came against a then rising Shinsuke Yamanaka, with Iwasa losing a 10th round TKO to Yamanaka in a sensational bout. Aged 21 at the time that was a learning experience and he would reel off a string of wins, taking the Japanese and OPBF titles before getting his first world title fight, and losing in 6 rounds, in England, to Lee Haksins in 2016.
The loss to Haskins was Iwasa final bout at Bantamweight before moving up in weight, and finding his groove once again. Just over 2 years after the defeat to Haskins we saw Iwasa have his career defining win, as he battered Yukinori Oguni in 6 rounds to win the IBF Super Bantamweight title. It was a red hot performance from Iwasa who looked sensational. Sadly though he failed to build on that win, scoring an underwhelming decision to retain his title against Ernesto Saulong and failing to really get to grips with TJ Doheny, who dethroned him in 2018. Since his title loss Iwasa has looked good, beating Cesar Juarez by technical decision and then dismantling former WBO Bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales in 2019, to win the IBF "interim" title.
In the ring Iwasa really does blow hot and cold, and he always has. He looked poor in his second fight, Edgar Allende, and again later in his career against Richard Pumicpic, Ernesto Saulong and TJ Doheny. When he's looked good however, he has looked sensational, and we saw that against Oguni and Tapales. In the ring he's a southpaws who fights as a boxer-puncher. His power is genuinely spiteful at this level, and technically he's very solid. Sadly though he often fights in a one paced fashion, struggles to go through the gears, and has struggled with southpaws through his career, with all 3 losses coming to lefties.
Of the two men we would suggest that Iwasa is the biggest puncher, at least a single punch basis, he's also the taller, longer man and if he can establish his jab he does have a chance of getting on top of the bout early on. His team have stated their game plan is to stop Akhamadliev from getting into his rhythm and we suspect that is the key to beating the Uzbek.
Sadly for Iwasa however he is the less versatile of the two fighters. He's an excellent boxer-puncher, but he's not the most creative fighter, he's not a great inside fighter and he's got slow feet. They are all things that Akhmadaliev will use against him. The Uzbek is a much, much more rounded in ring competitor. That is, we suspect, going to be the difference making.
We suspect Iwasa will come out sharp, looking to land clean straight shots and getting his range, but as the rounds go on Akhmadaliev will close the distance, get inside and begin to grind away at Iwasa. The difference in speed will be key and by the end of round 12 Akhmadaliev will have done more than enough to deserve the decision.
We expect the champion to retain, but he will have to work for it, and this will not be an easy day at the office for the talented Uzbek.
Prediction - Akhmadaliev UD12
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.