It wasn't that long ago that the Flyweight division looked like the best division in the sport. Sadly a lot of the top Flyweights from a couple of years ago moved up in weight, giving us a super strength Super Flyweight division but essentially leaving the Flyweight division a bit of a mess and a division lacking in terms of depth.
Despite being a mess the Flyweight division is, slowly, taking shape and we've had some notable bouts recently, with more just around the corner. The next of those to take place will see former 2 weight champion Donnie Nietes (39-1-4, 22) battle with Thailand's Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking (22-3, 15) to fill the IBF title vacancy. For Nietes the bout could see him becoming a 3-weight champion and solidifying his place as a Filipino legend whilst a win for the Thai would put him on the proverbial boxing map and help make him a fixture on the international boxing scene.
Aged 34, and turning 35 in just a few weeks, Nietes is a properly seasoned veteran, but who who is scarcely showing signs of slow down. That's despite having a career that began back in 2003 and has seen him fight consistently in world title bouts since September 2007, when he claimed the WBO Minimumweight title. During his time at world level he has beaten a who's who of the lower weights, including Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Raul Garcia and Edgar Sosa. He has compiled an amazing 14-0-1 record in world title fights and notched top tier wins in the Philippines, Mexico and US in a career which will almost certainly lead to a place in the HOF.
In the ring we've seen Nietes do it all. At his best he's a counter punching genius but he can fight on the front foot when he wants to, has under-rated power, under-rated speed and is not only technically sound but also has a very high boxing IQ. Given his age it seems clear he is now wanting to add to his legacy, and potentially chase some career defining wins, to add to his strong resume. He is however a fighter who has, at times, looked lazy, lacked the killer instinct and been happy to go through the motions, as he did last time out against Sosa. At his best he could well be one of the best little men in the sport, though failure to face the best Japanese fighters of his era is certainly something that will hang over his head given his long reign on top.
It's clear that Nietes can still go hard and fast for 12 rounds, though he has avoided really damaging bouts for the most part and is one of the freshest 34 year olds in the sport. Even then father time does take it's toll and it's unclear when Nietes will “get old”.
Whilst Nietes is well known at world level, and has long been on the fringes of the pound-for-pound lists with the real hardcore fans, the same cannot be said for Eaktawan, also known as Komgrich Nantapech. In fact the 27 year old Thai is a total unknown outside of Asia, and is hardly known outside of homeland. That's, in part, due to fighting under alternative names early in his career as well as having very little success outside of Thailand. In fact his first three losses, in 2012 to Albert Pagara and in 2013 to Sho Ishida and Froilan Saludar, were all fought under the name Tawanrung Eausampan. Since those losses however he has began to climb through the rankings and looked like a genuine talent with lovely offensive skills and combinations.
Although Eaktawan has shown some real skills, beating the likes of Lionel Legada, Takayuki Okumoto and Jenny Boy Boca there are flaws in his game. He is very much an offensive fighter, who has throws eye catching combinations, looks very relaxed and very fluid in the ring. Sadly he is defensively flawed, leaving openings for counters punches and a slightly open guard. Against a great counter puncher like Nietes he could be punished for his flaws. Saying that however he is likely to be the naturally bigger and stronger fighter against Nietes, and is obviously the younger, less damaged fighter. It's worth noting that his only losses have been above the Flyweight limit, with two losses coming at Bantamweight, and he is clearly a tough fighter.
The Thai is stepping up massively for this fight and although he has a number of advantages the question will be whether he has the skills to beat Neites. The obvious answer is that he doesn't have the skills needed to over-come someone as talented as the Filipino icon. However this is a niggling feeling that Eaktawan is better than his record suggests, and that he has the energy, young and toughness to make this a very tough assignment for Neites. We know that Nietes will be the favourite, and should win, but there is a niggling feeling that the Thai has got the timing right here, and could well spring one of the biggest upsets of 2017.
December 16th 2015 will go down as a major date in the careers of Filipino Marlon Tapales (29-2, 12) and Japan's Shohei Omori (18-1, 13). It was a day that saw Tapales drop Omori 3 times in the open round before securing a second round TKO to secure himself a world title fight, and also inflict Omori's first, and so far only loss.
Coming in to that bout Omori was seen as the new rising star of Japan, the next in the long line of great Japanese Bantamweights, such as Hozumi Hasegawa and Shinsuke Yamanaka. Tapales was seen as a hidden gem of the Philippines, but was expected to be the next victim of the fast rising Omori. Instead of it being Omori's stepping stone to world level it ended up being Tapales' coming out party and his chance to shine.
Following the win over Omori we've only seen Tapales fight once, stopping Pungluang Sor Singyu last July for the WBO title in a really sensational bout. Tapales was down twice in round 5, and looked a spent force at the end of the round, before he dropped Pungluang in round 6 and ended up securing an 11th round TKO in a remarkable comeback. Sadly that bout means that Tapales has has fought just 11 rounds in the last 12 months, and only 13 rounds in the last 24 months! That level of inactivity is pretty hard to excuse for such a talented fighter.
Although Tapales has been inactive it's not all been his fought. He was supposed to be in action last December, though saw that bout cancelled when Takuma Inoue suffered an injury forcing the cancellation of a bout the two had agreed. That bout aside though, he really needs to wonder why his team haven't kept him a little busier than he has been in recent times.
In the ring Tapales looks like a very short Bantamweight, and at just 5'4” he is certainly a shorter fighter than many of the top guys, but the crafty southpaw is a rugged and highly skilled fighter with under-rated power, a steely determination, an impressive work rate, impressive timing and excellent counter-punching. Impressive he has only lost once since 2009, and that was a razor thin loss to David Sanchez in Mexico. During that same time he has scored wins over Randy Petalcorin, Warlito Parrenas, Rey Megrino, Hayato Kimura, Omori and Pungluang. He has also been a key sparring partner in the past for Shinsuke Yamanaka and had a lot of ring time with the WBC champion, gaining valuable experience and skills from “God's Left”.
Having looked at Tapales' activity since facing Omori it's only fair to start this by looking at Omori's recent activity. Since his loss he has gone 3-0 (3) stopping Espinos Sabu, Edgar Jimenez and Rocky Fuentes, in a combined 10 rounds. Whilst he has fewer completed rounds than Tapales he has remained regularly activity with a bout every 4 months since his loss. It should also be noted that, like Tapales, he has seen a top level bout cancelled, with a contest against IBF champion Lee Haskins' being called off due to an injury to Haskins. Going back just over 24 months we have seen Omori fight 6 times, and score notable wins over Kentaro Masuda, Hirofumi Mukai and Fuentes.
At his best Omori is a heavy handed southpaw boxer-puncher. He showed his power against Kentaro Masuda in April 2015, in what was his break out win, but then seemed to fall in love with his power and neglect his boxing ability. That wasn't too much of an issue against Mukai but was a massive problem against Tapales, who countered him with ease and had a field day with Omori's recklessness. Since that loss however Omori has learned lessons and is now boxing more often, using his jab and making the most of his long and rangy frame. Whilst his 5'8” frame does give him serious advantages over many in the division the question is how much he will use it, and whether he will make it count for much here.
Prior to his loss to Tapales we really did think Omori was on his way to becoming a Japanese boxing star. Now the question is just how good is he really? Is her a chinny fighter who had been matched well on his rise before being beaten by Tapales, or was he merely caught cold and never recovered before being stopped. Few can question his heart, but his technique and durability both have serious question marks, and his ability to turn a fight around can also be questioned.
This time around we're expecting to see a very cautious Omori start slowly, box behind his jab and try to keep Tapales at range. If he can do that then he could make life difficult for the champion, who really is the much smaller man. As long as Omori can use his range and movement he stands more than a chance of avenging his defeat. On the other hand one mistake from Omori could result in him being countered by Tapales, and unravelling, as he did last time out. If we're being honest we see Omori needing to be on point for 12 rounds to win here, whilst Tapales knows that he has the power to hurt Omori and the ability to land that power. At some point during a 12 round fight you have to think Tapales will land clean, and although he's the smaller man he is a damn good boxer, and will eventually stop Omori.
The bout is an intriguing one in many ways, and is one we're really exciting by, and one where we favour the champion to score a repeat win.
April 23rd is set to be a huge day in Asian boxing with two world title fights taking place in Osaka. One of those is a WBA Flyweight title fight, as Japanese icon Kazuto Ioka (21-1, 13) defends his title against massively experienced Thai veteran Noknoi Sitthiprasert (62-4, 38), who is on a 61 fight winning run at the moment!
Of the two men the more well known is Ioka. He's a former unified Minimumweight champion who is currently enjoying a world title reign in a third division. During his career he has scored a number of notable victories, including wins over Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Akira Yaegashi, Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Juan Carlos Reveco. In fact for a fighter with just 22 fights Ioka has a genuinely brilliant record, including a 13-1 (8) record in world fights.
Although a talented pure boxer Ioka has shown an ability to do pretty much anything in the ring, with a real expertise in body punching. At his best he's an out-side boxer, but he's one who can stand and trade in the trenches, as he did did brilliantly against Keyvin Lara, and can have a fire fight when he needs to. Defensively he's criminally under-rated and has filled out in to a very strong Flyweight. It's worth noting that fighters can shut him down with calculated pressure, and he was seriously shaken up last time out by Stamp Kiatniwat, who dropped him, but he has real grit and determination.
At times it looked like Ioka was going to struggle to make an impact at Flyweight and in his first bout at the weight he was out boxed and out muscled by Amnat Ruenroeng. Since then however he has developed into a fully fledged Flyweight and very few fighters at the weight will match him for power, speed and physical strength.
When we talk about great winning runs we talk about the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr and Rocky Marciano, who both ended their careers unbeaten, along with the likes of Willie Pep, Sugar Ray Robinson and Julio Cesar Chavez. What all those fighters have in common, other than an impressive winning run, is some wins of real quality. The same cannot be said of Noknoi who has scored 61 straight wins, but none of huge significance. In fact during his 66 fight career his best win is likely to be his 2013 win against Kenichi Horikawa, a good fight but a Japanese domestic level one at best.
Not only is the 61 fight winning run impressive on paper in terms of it's number but also it's date, with Noknoi's last loss coming back in March 2005. Sadly though he has shown little signs of having become a world class fighter. He's still relatively basic and does nothing out of the ordinary, in fact it's barely even fair to say he's “ordinary” in terms of what he's shown so far. Many of his opponents have been dire and Noknoi has simply been a bottom feeder, with his management really getting the dregs of the regional scene for him. Despite being 30 years old and a professional for more than 14 years he really hasn't been made to develop his skills or show any real progression in terms of what he can do in the ring.
Sadly for Noknoi his team's almost fraudulent record padding will be exposed here. The skills he has learned and develop simply won't be enough to keep Ioka honest. Instead of being a test Noknoi will be a human punching bag for Ioka, who will tag the Thai at will, and will likely secure a stoppage in the middle rounds of the bout. Likely without having any problems at all.
For Ioka a win would be his 5th defense of the title and could set up some interesting match ups against the likes of Zou Shiming, Takuya Kogawa, Andrew Selby Toshiyuki Igarashi or even Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep. Ir would also see him become just the second Japanese male to win 14 world title fights, tying equal with Yoko Gushiken! For Noknoi a loss could force him into retirement, or could see his team continue to pad one of the most paper thin records in the sport today.
April 9th is set to be a big day in Japanese boxing with a number of shows being held in Osaka. The most notable of those is a title triple header at the EDION Arena Osaka. The headline bout from that triple header is a WBA Super Bantamweight title fight pitting defending champion Nehomar Cermeno (26-5-1-1, 15) against unbeaten Japanese challenger Shun Kubo (11-0, 8). For Cermeno the bout is his third defense whilst Kubo will be fighting for the first time at world level.
Aged 37 Cermeno is a genuine veteran. He was a noted amateur before turning professional back in 2004 and it didn't take long for him to impress, claiming various regional titles before scoring two huge wins in 2009 against Cristian Mijares, to claim and defend the WBA “interim” Bantamweight title. He would suffer his first two defeats back-to-back in 2010 against Anselmo Moreno, but both were ultra close split decisions to Moreno.
The losses to Moreno weren't shameful but they began a major slump for Cermeno who went from 19-0 (11) before facing Moreno to 20-5-1 (12) in just 25 months. Inactivity then cost Cermeno a chance to have big fights when the division was stacked with talent, but he has bounced back well, and went 4-0 (2) last year with notable wins over Qiu Xiao Jun and Nop Kratingdaengym to claim and defense the WBA title.
Although he is past the age one expects a fighter to be during their prime Cermeno is a talent fighter who doesn't rely on speed and reflexes. Instead he relies on his skills, his ring craft and his experience. He cleverly dictates the pace of a fight and the distance it's fought at. He's offensively crafty and defensively intelligent, knowing how to counter, and control an opponent, whilst also having under-rated power. Whilst not a KO artist, by any means, he does hit hard enough to punish fighters who give him openings, as Nop found out last year.
At 37 it's obvious that Cermeno can't fight at a great pace, but with his skills he has found ways to neutralise younger, fresher, foes and break them down with his accurate and sharp punches.
With just 11 bouts, and 56 rounds, under his belt Kubo will enter as the boy looking to become a man. He will also enter as the fighter that Shinsei Gym view as their heir apparent to Hozumi Hasegawa, who retired at the end of last year having become a 3-weight world champion. Kubo is viewed as the next star from the Shinsei gym, but this is a huge gamble and a massive step up in class.
In his mid 20's Kubo is a fighter coming into his physical prime and although he's only been a professional for about 4 years he has racked up countless rounds sparring with top fighters and has fought in 3 title bouts, winning the OPBF title and defending it twice. His competition hasn't been the best so far, but he does hold notable wins over Monico Laurente and Luis May, both decent fighters. Sadly he's jumping from OPBF level to world level with out fighting a real gate keeper type opponent, a real worry here.
In the ring Kubo is typically a counter puncher, looking to draw leads and fire back. If forced to lead Kubo is happy for a slow pace and to use his height and reach to keep the bout at range and pick his opponent off. Whilst that has typically worked well there are worries in regards to his stamina, and he has only been the distance once, against Benjie Suganob. He has got good natural skills, and size, but there is a question mark as to how tough he is, and how well he takes a shot.
Although there is a lot of questions about Kubo we suspect he and his team are pretty confident that he's a special fighter. He might not have shown that in the ring yet, but there is enough belief that he is something a lot better than we've seen so far. He will certainly need to prove that if he's to over-come Cermeno, but in fairness he is up against the weakest champion in the division.
Coming in to the bout we're not expecting a classic. We're expecting a slow and tactical battle fought at range, with only a few moments of real action. The rounds will be close, with Kubo's size and youth going up against Cermeno's experience and boxing brain. We think that Kubo may have gotten this bout at the right time, and that his team have done a blinder in getting him a shot at Cermeno. However with Cermeno's late career results there is a real chance that he will upset the rising Japanese youngster, just as he did with Jun and Nop last year.
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.