When we talk about exciting little fighters who can brawl or box few really rival Akira Yaegashi (19-3, 9). The WBC Flyweight champion won his first world title, the WBC Minimumweight title, by going to war with Pornsawan Porpramook, he lost that title in a thrilling war with Kazuto Ioka before moving to Flyweight to beat Toshiyuki Igarashi in a bloody battle.
Since winning the Flyweight title however Yaegashi has used his speed rather than his toughness to defend his title twice, including a notable victory over Edgar Sosa that saw Sosa often chasing shadows.
On April 6th Yaegashi will be hunting the third defense of his title has faces a third successive Mexican. After defending against Oscar Blanquet and Sosa, as mentioned above, he will now be facing Odilon Zaleta (15-3, 8).
Unfortunately after beating Sosa we'd hoped Yaegashi would be facing a top challenger, in Zaleta we are a bit disappointed, especially considering Zaleta's recent form which has consisted of 2 losses in his last 3 bouts.
Those losses of Zaleta have come to well known names in the form of Luis Concepcion, who stopped Zaleta in 2 rounds, and Mario Rodriguez, who took a split decision over Zaleta last time out. Unfortunately when we consider that Katsunari Takayama made Rodriguez look foolish and Rodriguez then beat Zaleta it's fair to say that Zaleta probably shouldn't be fighting for a world, at least not at the moment.
From footage of Zaleta he appears to be relatively slow, not all that aggressive, not the toughest but when he connects clean, as he did on Armando Torres last time out, he can clean an opponents clock. Although the power perhaps isn't reflected on his record he does seem to have a genuine thud on his shots. Unfortunately however that thud perhaps isn't applied properly a lot of the time with his actual punching form often looking poor, wide, wild and not particularly correct.
Against Yaegashi you need to either be able to completely out box him, something that hasn't been done since Eagle Den Junlaphan did it almost 7 years ago, or hit so hard and so fast that you refuse to let him get into any sort of a rhythm and swell up his eyes which often appear to be his key weakness.
When you consider that Eagle Den's victory over Yaegashi, back in 2007, is the only "clean" loss in 22 fights you do appreciate how difficult it is to beat him and both of his other losses have been razor thin.
If we're critical Yaegashi has two weaknesses. Firstly his eyes, as mentioned before, swell up really badly this could lead him to one day suffering a TKO defeat due to the swelling. The second is his lack of power. Whilst he can brawl and hold his own in a fight he's not going to take fighters out with a single shot, especially not at Flyweight. Back when he was an amateur he was a light puncher with just 15 stoppages in 70 fights and as a professional he's stopped just 2 of his last 10 opponents with both of those stoppages coming late in the bouts.
Against Zaleta we can't really see either of Yaegashi's "weaknesses" coming to the fore. Instead we expect the Japanese fighter to fight as a the boxer, get on the move and counter Zaleta's often clumsy looking shots. We might see a war break out late on if Yaegashi wants to make a statement, though it's more likely that the victory is the key here as opposed to putting on a show.
The reason why we think Yaegashi will be happy with a boring safety first win is that he knows a very tough assignment is just around the corner with Roman "El Chocolatito" Gonzalez. The idea is that if Yaegashi wins and Gonzalez wins on the undercard the two men will fight later this year in what would have to be described as a Flyweight super fight. It may not be a unification contest or anything like that but it's about as good a fight as you can make at any weight and a bout we hope comes off as expected in the fall.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
One of the break out fighters of 2013 was Russian Light Heavyweight Sergey Kovalev (23-0-1, 21) who really tore the division down last year with a strong series of wins which saw him claiming the WBO world title and becoming one of the sports "must watch" fighters.
Prior to last year Kovalev was a man known best for the tragic death of his compatriot Roman Simakov. Thankfully though he's managed to put that behind him to become a man that fans are eager to see. He's not just a "Russian fighter" as some may suggest but he's actually a fighter that fans are engaged with, fans want to see him in action and most importantly fans want to see his power connecting with opponent. Of course when he connects he hurts fighters. Every thudding shot of his shakes opponents, even a jab appears to have sledgehammer weight behind it.
The next man trying to derail the Kovalev express will be unbeaten American Cedric Agnew (26-0, 13) who boasts an impressive looking record though has hardly had the victories to make the world sit up and take note. In fact if anything he's managed to compile his record with out ever getting any sort of attention, a true under-the-radar fighter.
Although Agnew has remained under-the-radar his efforts have been spotted by both the IBF and WBO. The IBF some how ranked Agnew, despite having a major win of note, as the #3 ranked challenger whilst the WBO have him at a more realistic #14 ranking, a ranking that enable him to challenge Kovalev.
Of course not many fighters have the power of Kovalev and Agnew certainly doesn't. His last 4 bouts have all gone the distance and whilst there is no shame in going the distance with the naturally big Zack Page, a born survivor, going the distance with Yusuf Mack and Alfredo Contreras isn't the sort of form you'd hope for before getting in the with "Krusher" Kovalev.
Whilst he lacks power Agnew is certainly a talented fighter and he has nice speed, good technical form, lovely body shots and is very confident. He knows he's not the most attractive fighter but he has been calling out a whose who of top Light Heavyweights over the past few years and whether that was because he felt he could beat them, he deserved more attention or he wanted a pay day is up for debate the sounded like he thought he could beat them.
Of course for the skills Agnew has his lack of power and the fact he has never been hit by anyone as powerful or as strong as Kovalev is going to be a problem. When Kovalev hits you you know you've been hit and unlike many powerful fighters he doesn't load up on his shots, instead he throws heavy shots in volume so when he tags you once he'll follow up with 3 or 4 more shots rather than trying to take your head off.
For Agnew the key is to survive the first 6 rounds. That sounds easy on paper but Kovalev's last 6 opponents haven't seen the end of round 4. If Agnew can survive he may be able to ask questions of the Russian. In all honesty however we're expecting Kovalev's power to be felt early on and the ending to come soon afterwards as Agnew is swiftly beaten into submission.
Hopefully a victory for Kovalev will move us a step further to the proposed super fight between Kovalev and fellow power puncher Adonis Stevenson in a bout that really would be a shoot out. Unfortunately rumours are that Stevenson wants nothing to do with Kovalev, a real shame if true. That's a bout every fan seems to want and if Stevenson doesn't then we guess that says something about his character and the fear Kovalev strikes in to the heart of of other world class fighters.
Whilst boxing fans in the West know all about the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry they may not realise that Asia has some similarly interesting rivalries with great history and great match ups. One such rivalry is the long-standing Japan v Thailand rivalry which had been one of the standout rivalries in world boxing.
If you've followed the rivalry you'll be well aware that Thailand is really dominant on home soil. Japanese fighters have had one worst records in world title fights when they've had to travel to Thailand and whilst the rivalry is a good one it's been hugely one sided when a Japanese fighter has travelled.
When it's been the Thai fighter travelling however the rivalry is much more interesting with a more even spread of results.
The next chapter in this great rivalry comes on March 26th when Thai veteran Denkaosan Kaovichit (62-3-1, 26) travels over to fight Japan's teak tough Kohei Kono (29-8, 12) for the vacant WBA Super Flyweight title, a belt both men have previously held in one form or another.
Of the two it's Kaovichit with the longer and more established career. He began boxing way back in 1996 and quickly established himself on the Thai scene winning the PABA Flyweight title on his debut. After running up more than 20 straight wins he then fought Eric Morel in a world title fight. Morel proved to be too strong for Kaovichit but it was clear that the Thai was, one day, going to become a world champion.
Around 5 years after Kaovichit lost to Morel he returned to the world level and came incredibly close to claiming the WBA Flyweight title when he fought to a draw with Takefumi Sakata. A rematch with Sakata the following year, 2008, finally saw Kaovichit becoming a world champion aged 32.
The Thai's reign was somewhat short lived with him losing the belt 14 months later to Daiki Kameda after 2 successful defences against Japanese fighters, including Kameda before losing a rematch to him.
Amazingly since losing to Kameda back in 2010 Kaovichit has racked up 14 wins from 15 bouts, including a notable split decision victory late last year over Japan's Nobuo Nashiro for the WBA interim Super Flyweight title. That victory over Nashiro saw Kaovichit taking his record against Japanese fighters to 4-1-1, a shocking figure considering how many fights he has had in his long career.
Aged 33 Kono hasn't had a career nearly as long as Kaovichit but it has been a career full of ups and downs and numerous tough, hard fights.
The Japanese fighter began his career in 2000 and surprisingly he lost on debut and he lost again in his 10th pro bout to drop to 8-2. By that point few would have expected Kono to emerge as a force on the world stage though the hard man from Tokyo kept with the sport and made sure he improved rather than accepted that he wasn't going to ever be that good. His improvement paid off in 2007 when he claimed the Japanese Super Flyweight title with a victory over Teppei Kikui and later added the OPBF title to his collection with a victory over Eden Sonsona.
Kono's short burst of success came to an end in 2008 when he lost in his first world title fight, dropping a very close decision to Nashiro in a bout for the WBA Super Flyweight title. Although Kono lost he proved he was around the world level and just 2 years later he had earned himself a shot at the WBC Super Flyweight title. Unfortunately for Kono he came up short a second time, losing to Tomas Rojas, despite dropping Rojas in the final round.
Fortunately for Kono he managed to win a world title in his third shot, upsetting Thailand's Tepparith Kokietgym for the WBA Super Flyweight title. It had taken him 3 attempts but finally he had climbed the summit and his hard work had been rewarded. Sadly for Kono his reigned lasted just a few months before he lost a thrilling battle with Liborio Solis of Venezuela.
With Kaovichit we have a fighter who is experienced, obviously, though not one with much power. A problem at the world level where he had never stopped a world class fighter other than Sakata. He has instead relied on his speed, movement and combinations to get as far in the sport as he's gotten. It's obviously worked for him in his prime but at 37 he's slowing and his stamina doesn't allow him to carry it off for 12 rounds any more. He showed his age in the Nashiro bout where he started very well but looked completely spent in the final few rounds and against another pressure fighter he could well have come undone completely.
In Kono we have an aggressive fighter who fights very well by bringing the pressure, relying on his toughness and mentality of trying to grind fighters down. His biggest win, the stoppage over Tepparith, proved that Kono can bang but usually he forces opponents to be dragged into battles of attrition something that should really work in his favour against Kaovichit, as long as he can cut the ring off and make the early rounds hard.
Stylistically we can't see Kaovichit beating Kono, especially not in Japan with their careers where they are right now. In their primes this would have been a genuinely interesting match up though we do feel that right now Kono has a lot left in the tank than the Thai who is ancient for a fighter in the lower weights. We expect this to be similar to the Kaovichit/Nashiro fight though Kaovichit's feet and work rate drop earlier and Kono starts to turn up the heat quicker than his country man did. We're expecting that Kono's work rate will pay off with Kaovichit being stopped in the championship rounds after some thrilling exchanges.
Last year was a funny year for unbeaten Filipino Merlito Sabillo (23-0-1, 12). He started the year a complete unknown before stopping Colombian Luis De la Rosa to claim the WBO interim Minimumweight title. From this his popularity blossomed and he looked very solid in his first defense, stopping the limited Colombian Jorle Estrada in the 9th round.
Unfortunately for Sabillo his second defense didn't go so well and he struggled to a draw with Nicaragua's exciting youngster Carlos Buitrago. It was a fight that could have been a contender for Fight of the Year though many felt the result was a home town decision to keep Buitrago as the champion.
Whatever you thought of the Sabillo/Buitrago result is immaterial now and Sabillo will be looking to put it behind him as he travels to Mexico for his 3rd defense. Whilst it would have been nice to see him give Buitrago a rematch on neutral soil Sabillo will instead be facing dangerous Mexican Francisco Rodriguez Jr (13-2, 9), a man ranked #10 by the WBO at Minimumweight and #14 by the WBC at Light Flyweight.
Although a relative unknown the 20 year old Rodriguez is a a fighter with more than 3 years of professional experience under his belt. Those 3 years and 15 professional contests have seen him sharing the ring with some decent fighters, most notable Roman Gonzalez, who stopped Rodriguez in 7 rounds,
and Manuel Vargas, who was stopped in 3 by Rodriguez.
What we know of Rodriguez is that he is gutsy, you don't fight Roman Gonzalez unless you have real guts and courage and he is hard hitting with 9 stoppages in 13 wins. However he's also limited in terms of his boxing ability and the few decision wins he does, other than his most recent against Ernesto Guerrero, have been close. It seems that if his power doesn't take you out then he struggles.
Sabillo on the other hand is a talented fighter who has come from a street fighting background and has since had to develop into a boxer. In terms of his power he wasn't blessed with it but had to work on it. His first 11 bouts saw him scoring just 3 stoppages and his first 18 fights saw him with just 7 stoppages. Since then however he has began to believe in his own power and scored 5 stoppages in 6 fights with only Carlos Buitrago surviving 12 rounds with the Filipino.
In terms of experience it's to pick against Sabillo who has proven he's a warrior, proven his toughness and even proven that he's capable of fighting well on the road with his victory last year in Colombia. He might not be anything special but he's that solid type of fighter who will never be easy to beat and in fact it'll take a true divisional elite to beat him.
As for Rodriguez, he may have home advantage but it's hard to see him making it to the final bell. It took Gonzalez 7 rounds to stop the Mexican and whilst Sabillo doesn't hit as hard as "Chocolatito" we don't imagine it'll take him much longer to see off the Mexican maybe 9 or 10 rounds.
Hopefully the winner here will give Buitrago a shot later in the year though we could understand both fighters being apprehensive of "Chocorroncito".
(Photo courtesy of http://www.alaboxing.com)
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.