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
Over the last few years we have seen more and more Japanese fighters making their mark on the international scene. This has been, in part, due to the ease with which we can now watch Japanese fighters in action. Gone are the days of Key Hole TV and in are days of HD streaming and VOD services like Boxing Raise, which have allowed us to follow Japanese fighters from their early bouts right through to the point where they are world champions.
One such fighter has been Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9), who had much of his early career shown on Boxing Raise before becoming a staple on TV broadcasts, thanks to Watanabe's relationship with TBS. He is now set to take the next step in his professional career, following the likes of Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka, and make his US debut. He does that this coming weekend when he defends his WBA "super" and Ring Magazine Light Flyweight titles against Mexican youngster Axel Aragon Vega (14-3-1, 8), in what should be a break out bout for the exciting Japanese fighter in front of a new audience on DAZN.
For those who have followed Kyoguchi over the year they'll know what to expect from the cheeky looking Japanese fighter. The 27 year old turned professional in 2016, following his brother Ryuto Kyoguchi to the professional ranks, and he raced through the rankings. Within a year of his debut Hiroto had already won the OPBF Minimumweight, the Asian equivalent to the European (EBU) title, and had looked like a mini-Mike Tyson with an aggressive, pressure fighter style that was based around his pressure and combinations. Just 5 months later he claimed his first world title, beating Jose Argumedo for the IBF Minimumweight belt. His reign was a short one, with only two defense, though they did include a notable TKO win over Carlos Buitrago who is still a relevant contender and recently gave Elwin Soto a competitive bout in 2020.
In 2018 Kyoguchi became a 2-weight champion, stopping Hekkie Budler in Macau for the WBA Light Flyweight "super" title, which he has defended twice, beating both Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart and Tetsuya Hisada by clear, though hard fought, unanimous decision. The latets of those defenses came in October 2019 and he has been out of the ring ever since. He was supposed to defend his title last year, though had two bouts fall through. The first of those was in May, which was cancelled due to Covid19 putting a freeze on boxing, and the other was in November, when Kyoguchi himself tested positive for Covid19 cancelling the bout at the 11th hour.
Early in his career Kyoguchi did look a really destructive force. He was a pressure fighter with a hyper aggressive style, a focus on pressure, combination punching and getting close, unleashing his power shots and breaking people down in eye catching, fan friendly fashion. The move to Light Flyweight has seen him face tougher, bigger, stronger men who haven't wilted under his pressure like his early opponents, but he is still a pressure fighter at heart. We have seen him show some development and patience, and develop his boxing skills, but at his best he is still a front foot pressure fighter, who cuts the ring off well, and loves to get to work up close. It's his work in the pocket that is his best and his body shots are brutal. Unlike some pressure fighters out there he set them up properly, coming forward behind a tight guard, good footwork and a stiff, hurtful, jab. He also starts fast with his pressure, rather than build it through the fight, draining opponents mentally from the first bell.
In the opposite corner to Kyoguchi will be 20 year old challenger Axel Aragon Vega, a Mexican fighter who debuted in 2016 and has built himself a solid looking record, but on which lacks in substance. His first 10 wins all came against fighters with little experience, or losing records, and his first bout of any note was actually a loss, in 2017 to Juan Toscano. He did bounce back from that, with 8 straight wins, but suffered back to back set backs, with a draw to Edvin Ramirez Contreras and loss to Wilfredo Mendez. He bounced back again, with 3 low key wins, before a rematch with Mendez, for the WBO Minimumweight title, saw Vega suffer his third loss, this time by split technical decision. Since that loss he has fought once, beating veteran Saul Juarez in August 2020.
In the ring Vega is a tiny fighter, standing at around 5', but he's also a quick, skilled and tough one. Against Saul Juarez he looked sharp with his punches, he looked light on his feet and drew mistakes from Juarez which he countered. Sadly however that botu really doesn't tell us too much given how past his best Juarez looked, and whilst it's easy to be impressed by Vega it does need to be noted that Juarez looked beyond shot with his movement. To credit to Vega he did look smooth, he knew his way around the ring and has got nice hand speed. Sadly other footage of Vega isn't of the best quality, though it is clear he's a talented fighter and really does have plenty of skills.
Whilst we think Vega is a very talented fighter he is also a very small fighter, he's a light puncher and he looks to be a natural Minimumweight who will be taking on a strong Light Flyweight here. It seems unlikely he will have the physicality to get Kyoguchi's respect and will need to burn a lot of energy to stay at a safe distance against the champion. A champion who is known as a strong, pressure fighter with good footwork and solid body shots.
If we were in charge of Kyoguchi, Vega is the type of fighter we would have loved to have matched him with on his US debut. He looks made to order. We suspect Vega will have some success in the early rounds, he'll use his speed well, box well, but come under intense and incessant pressure and by round 4 or 5 the pressure and body shots of Kyoguchi will be taking their toll. A stoppage will then come, eventually, from Vega just simply being ground down and broken up.
Prediction - Kyoguchi TKO8
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.