The boxing world is full of undeserving world champions, getting the press and plaudits due to reaching “a” summit, often for a short amount of time. Fighters like Charles Martin, Oswaldo Novoa, Jose Argumedo and Giovanni De Carolis have all had the honour of being a “world champion” recently, and yet non of them are particularly well proven, or , in the case of Novoa and Martin, managed to keep their titles for particularly long.
Along with those undeserving champions are the deserving champions, the fighters who take on all challengers, defend their belts for years and sadly get over-looked by the press and general fan base. One such fighter is Filipino icon Donnie Nietes (37-1-4, 21), who is a 2-weight world champion, with a stellar record, a splattering of impressive wins, an 11 year unbeaten run and an incredible 13-0-1 (5) record in world title fights.
Nietes, the current WBO Light Flyweight champion, returns to the ring this coming Saturday as he looks to extend that run and record yet another successful defense as he takes on former world champion Raul Garcia (38-3-1, 23).
Interestingly whilst the fight could see Nietes extend his world title reign it is a fighter that sees Garcia entering the bout looking for revenge, as Nietes holds a win over Raul's twin brother Ramon Garcia-Hirales.
At his best Nietes is a wonderful chameleon in the ring. He can box, he can fight and he can be a cerebral counter puncher, and more impressively he can switch between the styles fluidly during a fight.
Trying to explain how good Nietes is, to those who haven't seen him, is really difficult. However going though his record we see wins over the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, who was then 20-0, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Sammy Gutierrez, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Vargas and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. The names might not mean a lot to those who don't follow the lower weights but the fighters are solid world class fighters, though some were beyond their best.
As for Garcia the Mexican is a veteran in the ring, and like Nietes, is a battle hardened warrior, with wins over Florante Condes and Sammy Gutierrez. Sadly whilst he is a veteran the last few years has seen him meandering through regional level opposition. In fact his last 5 bouts, dating back more than 3 years, have seen him face completely inept opposition. Go back a fight further we saw him come up short against Pedro Guevara, albeit in a very close fight. Incidentally two, of Garcia's 3 losses, have been close with one to Moises Fuentes seeing the two men being separated by just 2 points on all 3 cards.
At his best Garcia is a real handful, for anyone, in the division. He's tough, heavy handed, and combines physical strength with solid skills. That's not to say he's a sensational fighter but certainly a handful for anyone. Unfortunately we suspect he's far removed from his best and will instead be made to look second rate by Nietes, who will continue to be one of the sports most over-looked and under-rated world champions.
One of the most controversial bouts last year saw IBF Flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng (17-0, 5) [อำนาจ รื่นเริง] successfully retain his title with a decision win over Filipino Johnriel Casimero (21-3, 13). The bout was marred by fouling and wrestling from Ruenroeng, in fact the wrestling completely destroyed any semblance of a boxing contest and annoyingly it was all allowed from referee Larry Doggett, who was embarrassingly bad.
This coming Wednesday, 11 months after their first bout, the men will meet again, this time on neutral ground in China with referee being the world class Tony Weeks. This time around we hope that boxing will be the order of the day, and not wrestling.
At his best Ruenroeng is a real nightmare for anyone at 112lbs. He's 36 but fights like a fresh-faced 20-something year old, he's got great reflexes, he's physically strong, and has freakishly long arms. Despite those traits he is better known for simply being “tricky”, “difficult” and “frustrating”. A fighter who has skills but doesn't rely on his skills and instead relies on tricks, something that seems to be used to cover up what flaws he has, including possible issues with stamina.
When it comes to Casimero the Filipino was a fantastic Light Flyweight, combining skills, power, speed and genuine explosiveness to be an offensive nightmare. He combined those traits with a road warriors mentality and a real mental toughness, a toughness that saw him claim major wins across the planet. At Flyweight he may be outsized and out powered, but he is still explosive and could, potentially, still give some very good fighters some absolute nightmares.
Given how the first fight went we are expecting the rules to be bent by Amnat, but we think that the Thai will be punished for repeated infractions this time around. Notably what pure boxing did occur in the first fight saw Amnat look the better man, getting his shots first and and getting away without taking much in return.
If Amnat can box, and frustrate Casimero legally then there is very little chance for Casimero, who will have little more than a punchers chance. If, however, Casimero can control the action, make it a fight, albeit a clean one, then he has a chance to wear down the 36 year old Thai, who has shown some questionable stamina and is a very advanced age for a Flyweight.
We suspect Amnat will win, we suspect the bout will be messy and dirty but we think the win will be less controversial than the one he scored when the men first met just less than a year ago.
During the last 40 years or so we have become somewhat accustomed to seeing Oriental fighters being fast tracked through the ranks to a world title. Fighters from Thailand, Japan and Korea have all won world titles in their first 10 or so bouts with fighters, particularly Japanese, doing it regularly over the last few years. Notably it seems fighters from other countries now want to do the same now and we've already seen Vasyl Lomachenko race to a world title in just 3 professional bouts.
The next fighter looking to win a “world title” in their first 10 bouts is Kyrgyzstan born Russian based fighter Dmitry Bivol (6-0, 6), who looks to claim the WBA “interim” Light Heavyweight title and over-come the unbeaten, and tricky, Felix Valera (13-0, 12), of the Dominican Republic.
Valera, who enters the bout as the current “interim” champion, came to the attention of hardcore boxing fans last year when he travelled to Russia and out-pointed Stanislav Kashtanov for the title. The bout was one that many fans felt was scored incorrectly in favour of the Dominican, but in fair Valera did show some genuinely impressive traits and showed that he genuinely does know his way around the ring.
The Dominican has a very relaxed style, he can border on lazy at times but has the flash hand speed, intelligent movement and ring IQ that can take a fighter very far. He's a fighter whose record suggests he's a big puncher, though it must be said that aside from Kashtanov he's not faced anyone of any real value and his best stoppage is a 4th round KO against the limited Emilliano Cayetano.
Whilst Valera is a relaxed and “lazy” fighter the same can't really be used to describe Bivol who is an aggressive, high intensity fighter who brings the pressure and the action and looks to break down opponents. He can look a bit one paced at times, but he does everything excellently with a wonderful array of punches, an brilliant work rate and the desire to hunt a stoppage even when a bout is already won.
Unlike many fighters, including Valera, Bivol has been matched insanely hard. Everyone of his opponents has had a winning record, and in fact everyone has had double figure wins. We won't pretend the opposition have been fringe world level but they have been very good opponents for a fighter at the start of their career.
It's hard to bet against Bivol, who genuinely does look like one of the hottest young talents in the sport.
Saying that however Valera does have the style that perhaps could give Bivol real nightmares. Valera knows how to fight on the back foot, knows how to use the ring, and knows how to ride a shot. If Bivol goes into the bout looking to steam role the Dominican then he may find himself up again a man that really tests him mentally and physically. For Bivol to win he needs to use his intelligence, rely on his strong amateur background, and take his time.
Over the last few months we've seen the Japanese boxing scene change drastically. We've seen a number of retirements, a number of title changes and we've seen several of the top fighters begin to look their age. Whilst that sounds bad for Japanese boxing the truth is that the new wave of fighters already appear to be here, lead by WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (9-0, 8) [井上 尚弥] who returns to the ring on May 8th to defend his title against mandatory challenger David Carmona (20-2-5, 8).
The Japanese 23 year old looks not only like a genuine star but looks like one of the most complete fighters on the planet, and a man who may well go one to not only “break America” but become a genuine sporting star. Out of the ring he's naturally charismatic, charming and in the ring he's exciting, aggressive and and a genuine phenomenon. It's easy to just look at his record and claim he's a novice but the reality is that he's a very special fighter and already holds notable wins over Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez and Omar Andres Narvaez, with the win over Narvaez being the win that really generated an international buzz about the “Monster”.
In the ring Inoue combines frighting power with lightning speed and incredible boxing ability. Looking for a flaw in Inoue's boxing is next to impossible right now and almost everything he does looks incredibly fluid, as if he was a well oiled, perfectly designed fighting machine.
For those who haven't followed Inoue they may have only seen a couple of his fights, perhaps only his destruction of Narvaez from late 2014, and his most recent bout against Warlito Parrenas. If they are the only two bouts you've seen you'd perhaps think he was just an incredible seek and destroy fighter. The reality however is that he's a brilliant pure boxer who can box on the back foot, as he did in his second bout against Ngaoprajan Chuwatana, and he can box and move, as he did against Yuki Sano, in a bout that he fought mostly 1-handed.
He has become a seek and destroy fighter, but the reality is that he has a lot in his locker and we suspect he can pull what he needs, when he needs, if he needs. The fact he has shown an ability to box, bang, brawl and counter really is a worrying thing for his opponents, as is the fact the he appears to be getting better and already seems to have some of the best body punches, and combinations in world boxing.
When it comes to the challenger there is, unfortunately, little that really stands out about the 25 year old Mexican. In fact in many ways he appears to be a man who really has done very, very, very little to deserve a mandatory title fight. His first bout of note came back in 2013, when he narrowly beat Danny Flores for the WBO Youth title, and after two defenses he was given his first world title fight. That world title fight ended with Carmona being stopped in 7 rounds by Narvaez back in December 2013, in what was impressively Carmona's 5th bout of the year.
Since losing to Narvaez we've seen Carmona go 4-0-1, with the draw being a very contentious one against Warlito Parrenas in a bout that Carmona really should have lost. Notably the Parrenas bout was for the WBO “interim” title and the winner was supposed to face Inoue, instead both men have ended up facing Inoue given that Inoue beat Parrenas at the end of last year and will now be facing Carmona.
Carmona's level seems to have been found out with his losses to Narvae and his draw with Parrenas. Although he has improved, and developed, the fact is that he's genuinely not a fighter who has anything to trouble Inoue with. As a result we suspect he will become the third successive victim to fall within 2 rounds against Inoue who will almost certainly be looking to make his US debut later this year.
Japanese boxing is certainly going through some changes in recent times with a number of it's “senior” fighters suffering recent losses, and a further number announcing their retirement recently. One of the remaining stalwarts of the Japanese scene is current IBF Light Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi (23-5, 12) [八重樫 東], who looks to make the first of his title on May 8th, as he faces under-rated Mexican challenger Martin Tecuapetla (13-6-3, 10).
Aged 33 Yaegashi probably hasn't got left in his career, and given the wars he's been in it's a surprise he's still a world class fighter now. He's one of the few Japanese fighters to have won a world title in 3 weight classes, and he's not done it the easy way either. His first world title was won in 2011, when he out lasted Ponrsawan Porpramook in an incredible war, in 2013 he claimed the WBC Flyweight title, beating Linear champion Toshiyuki Igarashi, and last year he out pointed the heavy handed Javier Mendoza for the IBF Light Flyweight title.
Whilst Yaegashi always beaten reigning champions for the titles he's won, he's also faced a relative who's who of the lighter weights. Included in those opponents are Eagle Den Junlaphan, Edgar Sosa, Roman Gonzalez, Pedro Guevara and Kazuto Ioka, in what was a unification bout at Minimumweight back in 2012. That level of competition has seen Yaegashi become a fan favourite with the hardcore fight fans, whilst his style, which is an action based one that screams “warrior”, has seen him further endear himself to fans both nationally and internationally.
In the ring Yaegashi is often seen as a “hit and be hit” type of fighter. He has got under-rated defense, sharp speed and intelligent movement, but all to often those traits go out of the window as he instead looks to engage in an all our war, a battle of attrition and a high drama contest. It can be frustrating to see him ignore some of his boxing skills, but it's his willingness to have a fight that has made him so popular and we suspect has helped him remain a top fighter, despite suffering several high profile loses.
At 26 years old the challenger knows that time is on his side in regards to what he can achieve during his career, he will also know however that he is much younger than the champion and will be wanting to use that youth to his advantage here. Although less well known than the champion he has mixed with good quality opposition including Saul Juarez, Jose Argumedo, Oscar Blanquet, Milan Melindo and Gilberto Parra. He has typically lost at the higher levels, but he is certainly a very capable fighter and has shown signs of getting better as he's getting older.
In the ring Tecuapetla is a steady but aggressive fighter. Technically he's flawed, a little and a little open, but he comes forward, throws from unusual angles and really does take a lot to force him backwards. Whilst he is aggressive, and a solid puncher, he can be out boxed and a careful counter-puncher can give him fits as, possibly, could someone who gets in his face and can take his power.
In his highest profile bout to date the Mexican was narrowly out pointed by Milan Melindo. That was Tecuapetla's first bout outside of Mexico and whilst he did lose that bout he did give Melindo real issues and proved that he could box as well as fight and it was the boxing that actually gave the very talented Melindo troubles.
For Tecuapetla the bout is a step up, it's only his second bout away from home and it's his first at genuine world level. It's a really a leap up in class, however it's potentially a great opportunity for him to make a name for himself in front of an audience of several million fight fans. The reality however is that his open style is likely to give Yaegashi a lot of opportunities to counter him and as a result we suspect that Yaegashi will take a decision. The one risk for the Japanese warrior will be facial damage, and he will have to hope that his face doesn't suffer too much from his now trademark swelling. If he can avoid that, and more precisely avoid being stopped due to the swelling, he should retain his title with a decision in a very fun to watch contest.
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.