On February 8th we get a genuinely compelling world title fight as unbeaten Mongolian Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9) challenges American speedster Gary Russell Jr (30-1, 18), who makes his annual appearance for 2020. The bout will be Nyamabayar's first world title shot, and comes as a mandatory title challenge, whilst Russell will be seeking his 5th defense since winning the title, in March 2015.
Aged 31 Russell JR was once touted as one of the faces of the future for boxing. He showed flashes of pure brilliance early in his career with frightening speed and accuracy, impressive combinations, good boxing basics and a strong amateur background. He was 20 when he made his debut, way back in 2009, an was tipped as a genuine mega star thanks to his strong amateur background and freakish speed. Sadly though his career has failed to take off as many had hoped, in part due to a loss in 2014 to Vasyl Lomachenko, for the WBO Featherweight title. Despite the loss to Lomachenko Russell Jr did claim the WBC title just 9 months later but hasn't yet shone since winning the belt.
Since winning the WBC title in 2015, when he stopped Jhonny Gonzalez, Russell Jr's career has become a joke. He has defended the title 4 times, but the only real wins of value there are his 2017 win over Oscar Escandon and his competitive win over Jospeh Diaz. Those wins have been sandwiched by wins over Patrick Hyland, way back in 2016, and Koki Martinez in 2019, yes a 2019 version of Kiko Martinez got a world title fight!
Although still quick and well schooled Russell Jr's prime is behind him and he turns 32 in June. For a fighter who's speed was his greatest asset this is the age where that assets starts to falter. Coming his age with inactivity will not help him, or his reign as world champion.
At 27 years old Nyambayar is coming into his prime, and the heavy handed Mongolian has earned his shot by beating other top contenders, such as the aforementioned Oscar Escandon and the awkward Caludio Marrero. Although not the quickest fighter out there Nyambayar combines technical skills, physical strength, impressive size, and power. His hands are like rocks and what he hits he hurts. Sadly there are issues with what he does, and his balance is a major question mark, as is chin. Nyamabayar has been dropped several times in recent fights and although he's never looked hurt as such, the fact he's been down is a worry.
Although Nyambayar has only fought 11 times as a professional he is a former amateur standout. He managed to claim silver medals at the World Championships and the Olympics. This amateur background is solid and shows him to be a lot more experienced than his professional record shows, so those looking at his record and questioning his experience are perhaps asking the wrong question. However Nyambayar has suffered a number of injuries and since making his debut in 2015 he has rarely been active himself, with just a single fight in each of the last 2 years. That is a big issue.
When it comes to this fight this is a hard one to call, due in part to activity, or rather lack of, of the two men involved in the contest. Russell Jr's speed would be a nightmare for the Mongolian to deal with, if the champion was sharp and on point. However the level of competition that Russell Jr has been fighting at really doesn't let us know what he still has in the tank. On the other hand Nyambayar has the skills to neutralise some of that speed, and the power to hurt Russell Jr, if he lands clean. The Monbolian also has significant size advantages and will be looking to use those to control the range of the bout.
At their best we would expect Russell Jr to take a decision, play smart and play safe to rack up points. This February however we wouldn't be surprised by the younger, fresher, bigger Nyamabayar out working, out fighting and out muscling the smaller, older, Russell Jr, to take a close decision, and free the WBC title from Russell Jr's clutches after one of the worst reigns in modern history.
Prediction - Nyambayar UD12
The Minimumweight division is in a weird place right now. The champions seem to be showing no intention of unifying their titles and instead we essentially have 4 champions each picking their way through contenders in a division that really hasn't caught fire for a few years. We've thankfully got some some interesting contenders breaking through but it could be a while before any of them taking on one of the division top dogs.
Thankfully the year does kick off with an interesting bout in the division as IBF champion Pedro Taduran (14-2, 11) travels to Mexico and defends his title in early February, taking on once beaten Mexican Daniel Valladares (22-1, 13) in a mouth watering match up.
The 23 year old Taduran won the title last September, when he upset fellow Filipino Samuel Salva in a 4 round thriller. That was Taduran's second shot at a world title after a 2018 loss in a WBC title bout to Wanhen Menayothin. Despite losing to Menayothin we were impressed by Taduran who showed great aggression and energy, and outside of the Philippines, with a better referee than Stephen Blea, things could have been different. His title win over Salva saw Taduran score a 4th stoppage in 5 bouts, having also taken out Jeffrey Galero, Jerry Tomogdan and Philip Luis Cuerdo.
Fighting out of the southpaw stance Taduran's is an awkward fighter to face. He looks easy to hit due to a relative lack of defense, and he is there to be tagged by straight right hands. Saying that however he's still a total nightmare to face due to his high work rate and nasty power. He's one of those fighters who knows that his best defense is actually his offense and it will take a very good fighter to neutralise Taduran, without nullifying their own offense. Unlike most Minimumweights he chases a stoppage from the off, making him a real danger man to face, and not someone to get involved in a war with.
Mexican fighter Daniel Valladares has mostly fought as a Flyweight or Light Flyweight, and will be fighting as a Minimumweight for the first time when he gets in the ring with Taduran. Despite the weight concern he does make for an excellent dance partner and comes into this bout with a lot of momentum thanks to an 11 fight winning run. That run includes a win an in IBF eliminator at Light Flyweight, over the previously unbeaten Chrsitian Araneta, a win over former world champion Merlito Sabillo and a win over the then unbeaten Adrian Curiel.
In the ring Valladares is a really fun fighter to watch. He's a smart, yet aggressive pressure fighter. He has sharp movement, quick hands and despite being aggressive he is a patient fighter. He will look to create mistakes from his opponent for him to capitalise on, rather than go out wildly swinging and this could cause real issue for Taduran. It's worth noting that he has shown good form against Filipino and his win against Araneta actually came against a Filipino southpaw.
Given the styles of the two men this should be a total thriller. We would expect to see Taduran forcing the pressure and the action with his output setting the tempo, and Valladares responding with smart counters. We would expect a round or two of the two men figuring each other out, the time it takes for Taduran's engine to get going, then we expect to see the two men letting shots go freely on the inside. This will give us some amazing action.
The real question going in is how well will Valladares make 105lbs and can Taduran keep up his output in Mexico? If Valladares can make the weight safely he should be favoured, in what will be a cracking fight. If he takes too much out of his body however this will end up being a bit of a beating the Mexican. We expect Valladares to make weight, he's not looked a big guy at 108lbs, and we would slightly favour him here.
One thing we will say for this bout, is do not be surprised if this ends up being a bit of a sleeper classic!
Prediction UD12 - Valladares
Back in September we had expected to turn our attention to Madison Square Garden Theater for an excellent Super Bantamweight world title bout, pitting unified champion Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 19) against mandatory challenger Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6). Sadly in the build up the champion was injured and the bout was forced to be delayed, and rescheduled. With it being eventually pushed back to late January. Despite the delay we are now on course for the brilliant looking match up.
The 29 year old champion, who has unified the WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight titles will be making his first defense of the IBF belt and his fifth defense of the WBA crown, the first as the super champion. For Akhmadaliev, who is mandatory for the WBA title, the bout will be his first at world level as he looks to join a select few to win a world title in just his 8th professional bout.
Roman has become one of the sports most interesting champions. He won the title in 2017, stopping Shun Kubo, and announcing himself on the world stage. Prior to that win he had been knocking on the door, with wins over the likes of Adam Lopez, Christopher Martin and Christian Esquivel though it's been since winning the title that he has really impressed. After winning the belt in Japan, stopping Kubo, he returned and beat Ryo Matsumoto before beating Mosies Flores and Gavin McDonnell. Those wins built momentum, and that momentum lead to a unification bout with the then IBF champion TJ Doheny this past April. That bout was something special, with Roman dropping Doheny twice, but having the Irish-Australian warrior coming back at him with real drive and vigour. Over 12 rounds Roman did enough to win the bout and unify the belts.
After 2 losses in his first 11 bouts Roman could have been written off, though he has battled back hard, winning 19 in a row, unifying titles, taking chances and becoming the star of Thompson Boxing. The way he has turned his career around has been amazing and the fact he's travelled to Japan for 2 of those wins, and has taken 5 unbeaten records in his last 7 fights shows he isn't scared of a challenge. What Roman does really well is work. His output is excellent, he's technically solid with his shots, and despite throwing a lot he doesn't waste many. They aren't always the sharpest, or the hardest, but they are solid shots, and his engine is excellent. He combines that energy with a really gritty toughness, and although he can be hurt he grits it out, recovers quickly and comes back. If a fighter hurts him it really does seem like they should go all out to take him down, rather than give him a chance to clear the cobwebs.
Although Roman was a good amateur, which is something we don't hear much about strangely, Akhmadaliev was a sensational amateur. The Uzbek was a World Amateur Champion silver medal winner, an Olympic bronze medal winner a multi-time medal winner on the Asian and Uzbek scenes and recorded around 300 amateur wins. It's that amateur foundation that has seen him being fast-tracked through the professional ranks. In just his 4th professional contest he took on the then 15-6 Ramon Contreras for the WBA Inter-Continental title, then defended it against the world ranked IsaacZarate, to earn the mandatory position towards the end of last year. By that point he had been a professional for around 8 months! To tick over earlier this year he destroyed former world title challenger Carlos Carlson in 3 rounds.
Although a stellar amateur Akhmadaliev doesn't always fight like an amateur, in fact from the off he had a more professional style, with an aggressive mentality and almost a seek and destroy gameplan. He is constantly on the front foot, looking to break opponents down and although a touch reckless he is smart with his aggression.He's a fighter who seems to truly believe he's special, and not just because his team tell him he is. For a Super Bantamweight he's a solid puncher, he's exciting, but he is stepping up massively, from the likes of Isaac Zarate to Daniel Roman.
We'd love to see Akhmadaliev win here, setting his stall out as one of the kings of the Super Bantamweight divisions this quickly after his debut, and at just 25 years old. Sadly however we do feel it's too much too soon, and his lack of experience over the longer distance will be an issue. He's certainly has a chance against Roman, and if he's as good as he believes it's a really good chance, but we suspect he comes up short here against a man who remains one of boxing's most under-rated world champions. Worst yet for the Uzbek, we see him being ground down by Roman's pressure in the later stages, suffering a late TKO loss in a painful and gruelling defeat
Prediction- TKO11 Roman
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.