In 2018 we saw Jaime Munguia (31-0, 26) go from the man that couldn't get sanctioned to face Gennady Golovkin to one of the most must watch fighters on the planet. He went from relative obscurity to become the WBO Light Middleweight champion, and managed to fit in 2 defenses in what was an incredible break out year for the baby faced Mexican. To begin 2019 he faces Japanese challenger Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7), in what will be Munguia's third defense of the title he won in May, when he stopped Sadam Ali, and will be Inoue's first world title fight.
Of the two men it's clear the champion who is the more well known, thanks in part to a breakout 2018. At the start of last year Munguia was a 21 year old Mexican prospect with a 26-0 (22) record, who's only bout outside of Mexico was a win over Paul Valenzuela in Las Vegas, and even that was off TV. By the end of the year he was one of the leading Light Middleweights on the planet, a must watch fighter and someone who was being seen as the possible Mexican successor to Saul Alvarez. He would fit 5 fights into 2018 including his title win over Sadam Ali and title defenses against Liam Smith and Brandon Cook, and build a huge fan base in a very short amount of time.
In the ring Munguia is an all action fighter. He's technically very flawed but is a huge Light Middleweight, with an excellent engine, a high out put, a lot of power, an ability to soak up punishment. The technical flaws, most of which are defensive, are covered up by Munguia's hyper aggressive style. Compubox recorded Munguia as throwing well over 800 punches in his 12 round bout against Liam Smith, an incredible number for a world title bout at Light Middleweight. Worryingly many of those shots were full blooded power shots, and he looks like the fighter who is naturally very heavy handed.
Inoue, no relation to Naoya Inoue, is a fighter who had a huge 2017 in terms of regional success but saw 2018 as a near write off. The 29 year old from Tokyo has done it all on the regional level, unifying the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight titles, and doing so in 7 months last year. As a professional his biggest wins are over the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Ratchasi Sithsaithong and Yuki Nonaka, none of whom are really known outside of the Oriental region. Sadly 2018 saw him fight only once, taking a decision over Nonaka in a world title eliminator, due to protracted talks to face Julian Williams in a final eliminator, talks that never got sorted.
In the ring Inoue is a relatively small Light Middleweight, who has shown an ability to box or brawl at regional level. Sadly for him he isn't a big puncher, he's also not the quickest fighter out there, or the most defensively sound. Despite not having anything special he is a solid all round, often breaking opponents down in the middle rounds, with 3 of his wins last year coming by stoppage in the second half of fights. He'll need to rely on skills and a flawless game plan here, but unfortunately even that might not be enough to over-come Munguia.
We don't think anyone on the planet will have an easy time with Mungia, even the best fighters at Middleweight never mind Light Middleweight. Sadly for Inoue he's stylistically up against it here, and whilst we suspect Inoue won't struggle to find Munguia who won't have the tools to cope with the rampaging Mexican, who will break down the Japanese challenger, possibly even in the first half of the fight. We would love to see Inoue get the upset, but sadly we don't see how he can defeat Munguia, barring a freak accident from the Mexican
The Featherweight division is on of the most fragmented in the sport right now, with no unified champions and no clear #1. In fact it's not really clear on the ordering of any of the champions, and inactivity of certain fighters atop the division doesn't help matter. This coming Saturday we get a WBA "regular" title bout in the division, as defending champion Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) defends his belt against Chinese challenger Can Xu (15-2, 2). No matter who wins the division will remain a huge mess at the top, though at the very least this bout should remove a contender from the very messy WBA title picture.
We say it's a messy title scene for the WBA as they currently have 3 champions in the division. Rojas, the "regular" champion, Leo Santa Cruz, the "Super champion" and Jhack Tepora, the "interim" champion [ Ed's note - Tepora will be defending the "interim" title against Hugo Ruiz the day AFTER this preview goes live]. It appears none of the men are likely to face off any time soon, and instead the 3 titles will float around for time. Rather than linger on that, and politics of the WBA, we'll get on to the preview.
Rojas, from Puerto Rico, is one of the division's many over-looked fighters. He's tough, heavy handed, aggressive, physically strong and a nightmare for many in the division. Technically he is flawed, a rough around the edges fighter who can be out boxed, out sped and out thought, though few will fancy their chances of out fighting him. He comes forward behind a tight guard, looks to go to work up close and turn things into a fighter. He has been down before, and actually lost a decision last time out to Jospeh Diaz but kept the title due to Diaz failing to make weight. Diaz beat him by establishing the range, using a lot of jabs and countering well, setting a gameplan that fighters could use to beat Rojas in the future, if they have a similar skill level and toughness to Diaz.
Although he can be out boxed Rojas is the type of fighter who will be a nightmare for anyone. He will press the action, come forward and make even the best boxers work incredibly hard to earn a win. His aggression, physical strength an will to win are very hard to over-come.
Xu is looking to become the third Chinese male to win a world title, following Xiong Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, he's also looking to become their first champion above 112lbs. He's a relative unknown on the international scene, though is relatively well known in Asia, where he has fought all but 1 bout. In Asia he has scored notable wins against the likes Hurricane Futa, Kris George, Corey McConnell, Spicy Matsushita and Nehomar Cermeno. Outside of Asia his only bout saw him being surprisingly pushed all the way by Enrique Bernache last September, and in fact that bout almost cost him this title fight.
In the ring Xu is far from a puncher. He's an aggressive boxer, who lets his hands go a lot, but lacks power, and his stoppages have come from wearing opponents down. Despite his high work rate he does lack finesse in a lot of what he does, though has sparred with top fighters to try and develop his skills and polish things off. That sparring, including sparring with Naoya Inoue, will help improve Xu but the reality is that he's never going to be a a fluid, natural fighter. More a basic fighter, who works hard for results, especially at a level like this.
Given that both men like to let their hands go, both come forward and neither looks great on the back foot we're expecting these two to meet center ring. Sadly for Xu meeting with Rojas in the ring isn't a wise idea, and we suspect that Rojas' power and psychical strength will be the difference. Xu will be forced to back up, and we don't think he'll be effective on the back foot, instead we see him being broken down in the second half of the fight.
This coming Saturday we get the first major US bout featuring an Asian fighter, as Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39) defends his WBA Welterweight title against controversial American Adrien Broner (33-3-1-1, 24). For Pacquiao the bout will be the first of the title he won last July, when he stopped Lucas Matthysse, whilst Broner will be looking to reclaim the title he lost to Marcos Maidana in 2013.
At the age of 40 it's hard to know exactly what Pacquiao has left, however last time out he looked better than he had in a while, with some new found hunger and desire. It wasn't the Pacquiao of his heyday, where he was a destructive maelstrom of punches, but it was a sharp, hard hitting and smart Pacquiao. He was accurate, landing left hands at will and using his experience and skills to stop Matthysse. Amazingly the stoppage of Matthysse was Pacquiao's first since he stopped Miguel Cotto back in 2009.
At his very best Pacquiao was one of the all time greats, capable of living with the best in any era. Not only could have claim to have been one of the best, but he could also claim to have been one of the best in a number of divisions, having won world titles from 112lbs up to 154lbs. Now a days however it's clear that we're not looking at the same Pacquiao. He's still a very explosive southpaw, with a demonic straight left hand, however he has lost some speed, some ferocity and some of his energy. He's adapted his style well, and he's still a fantastic fighter, but not the man who defeated the likes of Chatchai Sasakul, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, among others.
An 80% Pacquiao would still be favoured over most fighters, but it's really not clear if we have an 80% Pacquiao or not. If we do it's always hard to bet against him.
Broner was once regarded as the heir apparent for Floyd Mayweater Jr. He was a skilled, counter puncher with a loud and brash attitude, that helped to generate a lot of buzz. He quickly went through the weigh classes, claiming titles from Super Featherweight to Welterweight, but it seemed like he move up due to an inability to control his weight, rather than naturally growing into bigger divisions.At the lower weights he was physically strong, powerful, quick and explosive. As he's moved up in weight he's kept the quickness, but is less physically imposing, less destructive and less active, in fact he's rather lazy in the ring, with low out put.
Technically Broner is a very talented fighter. When he actually uses his brain he's excellent. He's a sharp puncher, has a solid defense, impressive power and good timing. Sadly however his biggest issues in boxing, and it seems outside of boxing, is his brain and he's proven to not be the smartest or most dedicated fighter. Instead he's proving to be someone willing to derail his own career on a regular basis. If he clicks and can get up for a fight, and maintain the mental aspect that he needs he can be a major player, at least at Light Welterweight, but we're unsure whether he will ever make the most of his potential.
Given the age of Pacquiao we won't rule out a Broner win, but that would be an upset. We suspect Pacquiao will box to orders, move, stay busy and use his speed to simply out box a lazy Broner. Broner does have the skills and power to beat a faded Pacquiao, but we're not sure he has the mentality to beat the Filipino icon, even a 40 year old Pacquiao.
Our prediction is a wide UD to Pacquiao on this one.
On January 19th our attention, at least later in the day, will be in Nevada, as PBC put on a stacked card in association with numerous promoters. One of the many notable bouts on that card will see unbeaten Filipino Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) make his first defense of the WBA "interim" Featherweight title, as he takes on Mexican veteran Hugo Ruiz (38-4, 33). On paper this should be a very explosive and exciting match up between two heavy-handed fighters, who are both flawed, but exciting.
Tepora had long been seen as a rising prospect on the Filipino scene, and put his name on the international stage in 2017 when he scored a KO of the year contender against Lusanda Komanisi in South Africa. That was Tepora's 16th stoppage win in 21 bouts and his first outside of the Philippines. He built on that win last July in Malaysia by stopping Edivaldo Ortega in 9 rounds, to claim the WBA interim title. In both of those bouts Tepora looked a bit slow, and technically flawed, but was aggressive, heavy-handed and showed that even his jab could put opponents on the back foot.
Fighting from the southpaw stance, with a lot of power, Tepora is a real danger man and the 25 year old will be looking to have a lengthy reign with that title. Sadly however he's not fought since his title winning effort and has failed to really build on that win, something he'll be looking to do when he faces Ruiz. It should be noted that Tepora, at 5'6" is a bit on the short side for a top Featherweight, though has grown into the division, having debuted in 2012 as a Flyweight. He's powerful and a fully mature fighter even if he lacks a bit in terms of experience at the top-level.
The 30 year old Ruiz has had a long career, and a pretty interesting one at that. he would lose an early career bout to Enrique Quevedo before rebuilding to become the WBA "interim" Bantamweight champion in 2011. He held the interim title at 118lbs until challenging "regular" champion Koki Kameda in 2012, losing a close decision to Kameda in Osaka. He would later move up in weight and go 1-1 with Julio Ceja, winning the second bout with Ceja to claim the WBC Super Bantamweight title. That title reign didn't last long, with Ceja losing the title in Japan to Hozumi Hasegawa, in what would be Hasegawa's final bout. Since then he has returned to the ring, winning a couple of low key bouts in Mexico, and decided to move up in weight.
In the ring Ruiz is a powerful boxer-puncher, who is huge for the lower weight classes at almost 5'10". We wonder how much he has taken out of himself by boiling down in the past, and how much better he might end up being at 126lbs. By that same token we have seen him hurt by smaller men and we have to wonder how he copes if he's caught by a bomb by a true Featherweight. We also wonder how his nose, which was injured against Hasegawa, will hold up if he gets tagged on it.
Technically Ruiz is the taller, rangier fighter and also the more technically skilled of the two men. He is however a man who has shown some frailties in the past and against Tepora that is a major issue. Tepora is not the type of guy you want to fight if there's any question marks about your durability.
We expect to see Ruiz give Tepora issues, especially early on, but Tepora will, sooner or later, cut the distance and break his man down, somewhere in the middle rounds, to stop Ruiz and record his first defense of the title. Hopefully that will then lead to a busy and exciting 2019 for Tepora, who should be kept busy and allowed to really build his name over the coming years.
It's taken less than 3 weeks for boxing to throw us the first curve ball of the year, with the announcement of an IBF Super Bantamweight title bout pitting unbeaten champion TJ Doheny (20-0, 14) against little known Japanese challenger Ryohei Takahashi (15-3-1, 6) [高橋竜平] on January 18th. The bout was put together on short notice, with Takahashi's team struggling to get him a visa on short notice for a bout he simply couldn't turn down. As we write this, it's still unclear if a visa has been granted, things are being cut that fine!
So, let's just accept a visa has been given and that the bout is on, lets now look into the bout, and what we're going to be seeing for Doheny's DAZN debut, and his first bout under Eddie Hearn.
The unbeaten 32 year old champion won the title last year, travelling to Tokyo and dethroning Ryosuke Iwasa. That bout, shown in Japan and the US, was supposed to set the winner up for a bout with the then WBO champion Isaac Dogboe. Instead of facing Dogboe in a unification bout the Australian based Irish man saw had to recover from serious facial injuries and in December Dogboe was himself dethroned. That seemed to leave Doheny with plenty of options on the table, including potential Japanese returns for some of their big names like Shingo Wake. Instead, however, he signed with Eddie Hearn, and that deal was announced on January 8th with his first bout under Hearn announced for just 10 days later.
Dubbed "The Power" Doheny is actually not an out and out puncher. He can bang, and he certainly does have power, but as he showed against Iwasa he's a talented mover, a sharp puncher, an intelligent fighter and not someone who look to just bang with a banger. He made Iwasa look slow and clumsy by stopping "Eagle Eye" from setting his feet, and for the most part out worked and out manoeuvered the Japanese fighter. Other than the win over Iwasa Doheny's record is a bit thin, with his best wins coming against the likes of Mike Oliver, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Marco Demecillo and Mike Tawatchai. That however isn't a sign that he's a bad fighter, just one who hasn't been able to really prove what he can do, often enough.
As mentioned Takahashi is a little known fighter, and if you don't follow the Asian or Oceanic scene you almost certainly won't have seen him at all. Almost all of his bouts have been in his native Japan, and most haven't been televised. His early career wasn't great, losing his debut in 96 seconds to Shogo Sumitomo in December 2012, before fighting to a draw with Matcha Nakagawa in his second bout. It wasn't until January 2014 that he scored his first win, but he really came of age during that year and went on to win the All Japan Bantamweight Rookie of the Year whilst advancing his record to 5-1-1. In 2015 he notched 3 more wins before leaving Japan for the first time and losing a wide decision to a then 5-0 Andrew Moloney, then a prospect but now a leading Super Flyweight contender. Since that loss Takahashi has gone 8-1 with notable domestic wins over Matcha Nakagawa, Kazuki Tanaka and Shingo Kusano as well as a big win over Thailand's Mike Tawatchai in Thailand.
Takahashi is an aggressive fighter, he looks to set a high work rate and fights like someone who is confident in himself. That confidence has grown in the last few years, really booming since he stopped the then touted Kazuki Tanaka back in May 2017, with what was sheer determination and pressure. That was a tactic he used well against Mike Tawatchai as well, to take a clear decision in Thailand. Sadly however Takahashi is defensively open, and in his bout against Shingo Kusano he was being caught bu southpaw left hands time and time again, looking like he really wasn't sure how to fight a southpaw, though had the energy and desire to take the narrow decision. That is the bout that should worry those picking the upset. Even against orthodox fighter Takahashi's defense doesn't look the best, but against southpaws he really is open.
Although we would suggest Doheny would win anyway Takahashi also to issues with his visa, the late notice and the time zone change. Any one of those issues would be a problem, but all 2 really do show the card is stacked against him, we don't blame Doheny for that but do wonder if Eddie Hearn has had problems putting together an attractive card due to over stretching his resources and time. He's got a lot on his plate right now and giving fighters like Takahashi the opportunity of a life time on short notice might work, but it's a reputation he won't want to build.
As a prediction we suspect Doheny's speed, power and southpaw stance will pick apart a game challenger and Takahashi, whilst brave, will be stopped in the middle rounds by the champion, who is looking to unify with WBA champion Daniel Roman later in the year.
(Image courtesy of Yokohama Hikari)
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.