One of the big Japanese success stories of 2017 was Flyweight sensation Daigo Higa (14-0, 14), ho claimed the WBC Flyweight title in May and recorded his first defense in October. Not only did he win and defend the title, but he did so in impressive fashion, stopping both Juan Hernande Navarrete and Thomas Masson in a combined 13 rounds, to continue his perfect KO run. This coming Sunday Higa will be looking to extend his perfect run as he takes on former WBO Minimumweight champion Moises Fuentes (25-4-1, 14) in what will be his second world title defense.
If you've missed Higa's rise over the last few years there really is no excuse to continue turning a blind eye to one of the sports most exciting and destructive fighters. The 22 year old Okinawan debuted in June 2014 and blew out his first 5 opponents in the first 2 rounds. He took his first step up in June 2015 and stopped Cris Alfante in 4 rounds before travelling to Thailand and stopping Kongfah CP Freshmart in 7 rounds to claim the WBC Youth Flyweight title. He would defend that title twice before moving up in class to claim the OPBF title in 2016 and then move up again to claim the WBC title last year.
Stood at just over 5'3” Higa is a little ball of destruction similar to a prime Roman Gonzalez. For those who were fans of Gonzalez it'd be hard to not be excited by Higa who has a very similar style based on intense pressure, vicious combinations and an under-rated defensive skills. Not only does he have an aggressive style but he has the devastating power to go with it, and his shots all look like they have incredible power on them, despite the fact he never looks like he's forcing things. Instead everything just naturally flows, including some brilliant triple hook combinations.
Not only has Higa shown his destructive style, his toughness, and desire but he's never looked hurt during his career, despite having a tooth damaged in his title win, and has shown impressive stamina, going 10 rounds against Renren Tesorio in 2015. Although he was widely in charge against Tesorio he refused to risk his perfect KO record and continued hunting the stoppage until the referee was forced to save the Filipino.
Mexican fighter Fuentes is 30 years old but is an old professional having made his debut in May 2007. He started his career with a 12 fight winning run before losing a split decision to Juan Hernandez Navarette in 2011. Despite the set back against Hernandez it didn't take long for Fuentes to get back to winning ways and just 6 months later he would beat Raul Garcia by split decision for the WBO Minimumweight title. As the world champion he would defend the belt twice, stopping both Julio Cesar Felix and Ivan Calderon before moving up in weight. At 108lbs Fuentes' natural size stopped being a huge advantage and he would go 0-1-1 against Donnie Nietes in bouts for the WBO title. He did manage to score some good wins following those losses, including wins against Oswaldo Novoa and Francisco Rodriguez Jr, but looked totally shot when he faced Kosei Tanaka at the end of 2016.
Sadly since the Tanaka bout it's been hard to really know what Fuentes has left, as he's gone 1-1 with Ulises Solis. Going on the Tanaka bout, there was nearly nothing left. It seemed the same when he was stopped by Nietes in their second bout as well. It could well be that he's shot, or it could have been that he was taking too much out of himself to make 108lbs. Whatever the reason it does seem like he's not the fighter he once was.
Although Fuentes at his best was a nightmare, a big strong, aggressive tank, who came forward and let his hands go, we don't believe he's even close to being that fighter. Instead we see him as a shot fighter, and the next victim of the Higa express. Fuentes might be able to pose some problems early on, but we can't see him lasting too long with against Higa's aggression and power.
Last year we saw a number of lesser known fighters increase their profile with a number of impressive performances. One of those was Filipino Jerwin Ancajas (28-1-1, 19), who went 3-0 (3) for the year, defending the IBF Super Flyweight title in all 3 of those bouts and scoring wins in Macao, Australia and Northern Ireland. He looks to kick off his 2018 with his 4th world title defense, as he takes on once beaten Mexican challenger Israel Gonzalez (21-1, 8).
The Super Flyweight division is, arguably, the most interesting in the sport today with a number of excellent fighters. Sadly the division has got political issues, and Ancajas signing with Top Rank in 2017 has locked him out of facing a number of top fighters and showcasing his abilities against the best. Those abilities are, however, exceptional and the Filipino is a real joy to watch.
Dubbed the “Pretty Boy” Ancajas is a photogenic fighter who is a wonderfully pure boxer. He fights from the southpaw stance, sets the pace of the fight and controls the distance with smart footwork and very accurate straight shots. On the inside he throws beautiful shots, especially to the body, and defensively he's smart and quick. His speed is one of his key strengths, with his hands and feet both being incredibly fast, and there is a wonderful smoothness to his boxing.
One of the problems is Ancajas is the fact he's not a big puncher. Despite not being a big puncher he has gone 15-0 (14) since his sole loss, a majority decision to Mark Anthony Geraldo back in March 2012. What's impressive about Ancajas is that everyone of his shots stings, and takes a toll, rather than concusses an opponent. He breaks down opponents with a steady steam of shots and they are can hurt to either the head or body.
During his 30 fight career Ancajas has scored notable wins over the likes of Inthanon Sithchamuang, McJoe Arroyo, who he beat for the title, Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Teiru Kinoshita and Jamie Conlan. From those only Arroyo lasted the distance.
Mexican fighter Gonzalez has been a professional for just over 3 years, and has been a very busy fighter since his November 2014 debut. Just 13 months after his debut he fought in his first title fight, claiming the interim WBC FECOMBOX Super Flyweight Title with a win over Francisco Reyes. Amazingly that was Gonzalez's 13th bout in as many months. In mid 2016 he suffered his first, and so far only, loss, as he came up short against Argi Cortes. Back to back stoppages over former world title challenger Mauricio Fuentes followed, along with a win over a very shop warn Ramon Garcia Hirales. Those wins are the most notable on Gonzalez's record, and since then he has scored 5 low key wins.
Despite being so busy there is little quality footage of Gonzalez available. What is available shows an aggressive pressure fight with a nice snappy jab and nice head movement. Sadly for him though there is a real lack of power and so little footage is available to know anything about how he copes with pressure and what he's like on the inside. The footage, which is quite old, shows a slappy fighter who really doesn't get his weight or body behind his shots and whilst he could have improved it would take a huge amount of development to prepare him for someone like Ancajas.
On Saturday, when the two men get in the ring, we're expecting a real show case from Ancajas. We're expecting the champion to set the distance and pace from the off, and beak down the challenger in 6 or so rounds. Gonzalez' toughness is unknown, but we know how good Ancajas is and how accurate he is, with Gonzalez unlikely to be able to take the fire power from Ancajas for long.
The Lightweight division has been a rather interesting one in recent but one which hasn't had the super fights we'd been hoping for. Instead of top fights we've had a mix of solid contests, and really lacklustre ones. The one man who had stood out as consistently facing top contenders is Venezuelan star Jorge Linares (43-3, 27), the current WBA, Ring Magazine and WBC “Diamond” champion. Over the last three years he has defeated Kevin Mitchell, Anthony Crolla, twice, and Luke Campbell and this coming Saturday he looks to record his next defense, as he takes on Filipino foe Mercito Gesta (31-1-2, 17).
The 32 year old champion, dubbed "el niño del oro", or "the golden boy", has long been a world class fighter. He won his first world title back in July 2007, when he stopped Oscar Larios for the WBC Featherweight title, and he would subsequently claim the WBA Super Featherweight before winning the WBC Lightweight and later the WBA Lightweight title. What has helped him to be so successful is the fact he is one of the most naturally gifted fighters in the sport. He is hugely skilled, everything he does looks incredibly fluid and he combines that with under-rated power and some of the best combination punching in the sport.
Whilst wonderfully skilled Linares does have issues with durability and arguably concentration and stamina. His losses have all been stoppages, and all against fighters he was fancied to beat, Juan Carlos Salgado, Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson. Those losses have seen his chin being cracked, his energy running out and his skin ripping. Whilst he's a wonderful fighter to watch there is always a worry that he will cut, or be caught. There is also a worry that he will become bored in the ring, something we've seen a number of times, though hasn't yet cost him a win.
The 30 year old challenger has been a professional since 2003 and was tipped to be one of the major stars of Filipino boxing, with some dubbing him the next Pacquiao. Sadly though Gesta has failed to ever live up to that hype and looked totally confused and lost in his only other world title fight, a 2012 bout against the then IBF Lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez. The performance against Vazquez wasn't just bad, but it was confusing and weird, with Gesta regularly looking up to the big screen and looking disinterested, in what was a potentially career changing bout. That loss was followed by more than a year out of the ring, though he has since gone 5-0-1 (3), scoring a draw with Carlos Molina and wins over the likes of Miguel Angel Mendoza and Martin Honorio.
In the ring Gesta is a pretty good fighter, but not one who deserved the early career hype that he had. A lot of the hype was because he had debuted at the age of 16 and looked very promising as a prospect, but didn't have the big amateur career and it wasn't long until there was some flaws showing up in his performances. He was winning bouts, for the most part, and even fighting in the US, but a lot of the time he was failing to shine and wasn't being given real tests. To his credit howeber when he was stepped up he looked better than he had earlier, with wins against Oscar Meza, Ricardo Dominguez and Ty Barnett. But totally fell apart mentally against Vazquez.
Gesta is a southpaw with some nice skills and could be a test at 135lbs for many contenders. But he's not a particularly heavy handed fighter, or a high action fighter. He has a nice variety of shots, all of which look sharp and damaging, but lacks intensity and defensively he doesn't look anything great. That isn't helped by the fact his chin isn't the best, and he has been down a number of times during his career.
The best Gesta has a chance against the worst Linares, but the reality here is that Linares should school the Filipino, who may well end up suffering his first stoppage loss, if Linares wishes to make a statement. There really is only a very slim, punchers chance for Gesta here.
One of the big boxing revelations of 2017 was Thai power puncher Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who made his US debut and took a close decision over Roman Gonzalez for the WBC Super Flyweight title. The Thai then went back to the US and scored a second win over Gonzalez, knocking out the Nicaraguan great to really prove his first win wasn't a fluke. This coming weekend we see another Thai make his US debut with the hopes of breaking out from obscurity and beating a recognisable name from Latin America.
The Thai in question is Teerachai Kratingdaenggym (38-0, 28), a rare Thai who fights at Welterweight. Despite his long unbeaten record he hasn't really made a mark of any kind outside of Asia, though is a fighter who has been in more than 30 PABA title fights and has certainly made a mark on the regional scene. Despite being a fixture on the Pacific and Asian boxing scenes he is a total known compared to his upcoming foe, hard hitting Argentinian star Lucas Martin Matthysse (38-4-0-1, 35), who has fought numerous bouts in the US during his exciting career.
Although unknown in the West Teerachai has been scoring notable C tier wins during his career, which began just over 10 years ago. These have included wins over Dan Nazareno Jr, Romeo Jakosalem, Randy Suico, Larry Siwu, and Vladimir Baez. None of those would be fit to test Matthysse, but in reality they are far from bad fighters, with Suico and Jakosalem being former OPBF champions and Baez now set for a Japanese title fight. The gap between them and Matthysse is huge, but they are decent wins for a rising contender, like Teerachai has been.
Teerachai has looked like a talented, but flawed, fighter coming through the ranks. He has appeared to depend a lot on his size and physical strength at times but can box, and his KO win against Baez showed that Teerachai can cope with very aggressive fighters and can counter that aggression well. His finishing shot against Baez was an absolute peach of a right hand, but he had also used a measured and stiff jab to keep Baez at range. That jab will have to be a key if he's to defeat the naturally smaller Matthysse,, but landing it on a world class fighter will be a million miles harder than it's been at the regional level.
Although a notable name now a days Matthysse was a relative unknown outside of Argentina early in his career. For some it wasn't until his controversial 2010 loss to Zab Judah that he managed to make a mark on the sport, with his even more controversial loss the following year to Devon Alexander really establishing him as being one to watch. Wins over Humberto Soto, Ajose Olusegun, Mike Dallas Jr and Lamont Peterson all showed that Matthysse was a definitive world class fighter, and despite a loss to Danny Garcia he has remained a fixture at world level, despite a stoppage loss in 2015 to Viktor Postol.
In the ring Matthysse is a viciously hard hitting fighter. He's tough, spiteful with his punches but can genuinely box rather well. He has often been regarded as crude and a slugger, but the reality is that he's a very solid boxer, who is just blessed with brutal power. Sadly he is now 35 with just 5 rounds under his belt in the last 2 years and is naturally quite a small fighter at 147lbs, despite being a huge puncher. Physically he's not much taller, or rangier, than Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi, and whilst he is very powerful it was clear that he can struggle with tall rangy fighters, as he did against Postol.
The Argentinian is the clear favourite. He's the more proven fighter, the more well known man and the one with the power. Though as we saw last year there is a gritty determination among Thai fighters, which sees them take a chance when offered one.
We're expecting to see Teerachai make the most of this huge opportunity and look to establish his jab, keep Matthysse at range and frustrate the ageing Argentinian. Matthysse at his best almost certainly sees off Teerachai within 5 or 6 rounds. But this version of Matthysse is 10 years older than Teerachai, has had wear and tear from bouts with Postol, Rusklan Provodnikov, John Molina Jr, Danny Garcia, Humberto Soto and many more others. We're going on on the limb and predicting the upset here, with a shock win for Teerachai.
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.