One of the best title fights for us this month comes from the US as we get a really mouth watering IBF Super Flyweight title bout between two unbeaten men looking to claim their first world title and pick up the belt recently vacated by the talented but enigmatic Zolani Tete. For those unaware, Tete vacated the title due to a dispute over money for a scheduled with one of the two men now trying to claim his former belt.
Originally Tete was supposed to fight Puerto Rican fighter McJoe Arroyo (16-0, 8). Arroyo isn't just unbeaten but is in sensational form recently, scoring dominant wins over Hernan Marquez and Mark Anthony Geraldo. Whilst a bout between Arroyo and Tete looked brilliant Tete's refusal to take part in the bout has left an equally good looking bout with Arroyo now facing unbeaten Filipino Arthur Villanueva (27-0, 14).
Whilst both men would likely have liked to have beaten a “recognised” champion to claim a title it's fair to say that neither will complain about being matched with another unbeaten and highly regarded top contender.
Of the two men the one that we're most concerned with is the Filipino fighter, who has been in and around the rankings for several years whilst awaiting an eventual world title bout. That opportunity has seen Villanueva wait, though he has been able to pick up some invaluable experience and ring time against a variety of foes.
Villanueva first came to the attention of many Filipino fans back in 2010 when he claimed the GAB Flyweight title with a stoppage of Brix Ray. The following year Villanueva recorded his first defense of the title and also scored a notable win over the the then rising Mark Anthony Geraldo. Things went from strength to strength and by the end of 2012 Villanueva had claimed the OPBF Super Flyweight title with a win over Taiki Eto, whilst also scoring notable wins over Rey Megrino and Pramuansak Posuwan.
Despite having a break out run between 2010 and 2013 Villanueva failed to capitalise, despite scoring another excellent win in early 2013 over the then unbeaten Marco Demecillo. Sadly the failure to make good on his success saw 2014 become a very frustrating year with incredibly close wins over Fernando Aguilar and Henry Maldonado, though he did end the year with an excellent win over former world champion Julio Cesar Miranda.
As a boxer Villanueva can be very patient and smart. He can play the matador role really well. Unfortunately however he can also over-look his opponents, as he did with Aguilar and Maldonado. When he does that it really does leave us wondering just how credible he can be as a genuine title contender. If on form and up for the bout Villanueva is a handful for almost anyone else in the division, if he's over-looked an opponent however he's an accident waiting to happen.
Whilst the 26 year old Villanueva has taken his time since turning professional back in 2008 he has developed a lot with his 27 fights, and 178 rounds.
As for Arroyo the 29 year old Puerto Rican was tipped for success ever since his days as an amateur. It was in the unpaid ranks that Arroyo competed at the top level and even claimed the bronze medal, at the 2007 World Amateur Championships.
In 2010 the Puerto Rican turned to the professional ranks to little fan fare. After 10 bouts he had really failed to even register on the scene with no wins of note. In the last 3 years however he has really began to impress, with several wins of note. The first of those came in September 2012 when he stopped former world champion Jose Lopez in 4 rounds. More recently he's scored an excellent 11th round TKO victory against Hernan Marquez and a very wide decision win over Mark Anthony Geraldo.
At his best Arroyo is a very good boxer-puncher who fights from the southpaw stance. He's perhaps not the biggest hitter and fastest fighter in the division but he is very capable and knows when to be patient and when to force the issue. Among his best tools is his jab, which is sharp and heavy, and his his boxing brain which is very on point as he sees openings very quickly.
Although talented Arroyo has been dropped, and run very close, by Jairo Hernandez. That is the sole black mark against him so far, though he did gut it out and win the bout. It's also notable however that his face did appear to swell slightly against Marquez, despite Marquez really struggling to get any notable success, this may be more of an issue against an opponent who can tag him.
On paper this promises to be an intriguing contest between two talented and hungry fighters. Sadly for Villanueva he appears to have more faults that Arroyo. It's fair to say that at their best both look like future champions however, from what we've seen, Arroyo is the more complete fighter that the moment and he's less likely to fall to sleep, unlike the Filipino. With that said we don't imagine either fighter has the power to stop the other but we're expecting to see a clear win for Arroyo.
Heavyweights and Asian boxing don't typically go hand in hand together, however Asia does have a Heavyweight “world” champion. That's WBA “regular” champion Ruslan Chagaev (33-2-1, 20) who defends his title on July 5th against once beaten Italian born fighter Francesco Pianeta (31-1-1, 17).
Chagaev, an Uzbek born southpaw, is the only Asian fighter to have ever won a Heavyweight world title. At one point he was regarded as one of the very best in the division, though those times are long gone and now, aged 36, he's a plodder with a political title belt that is seen by many as a joke. When talking about top Heavyweights no one mentions Chagaev's name, and in fact most wouldn't even regard him as a top 10, or even top 20 Heavyweight.
At his best Chagaev was a very solid all rounder with good strength, respectable speed, solid, though not monstrous power, and very well rounded skills. Those abilities lead him to notable wins over the likes of Volodymyr Vyrchys, John Ruiz and Nikolay Valuev. Sadly though those wins came more than 6 years ago and since then he has been stopped by Wladimir Klitschko and out pointed by a lethargic looking Alexander Povetkin.
Since losing to Povetkin in 2011 we've see Chagaev win 6 bouts, with the most recent being his “title” win last July when he narrowly, and controversially, over-came Fres Oquendo. That win seemed to show just how little Chagaev had left in the tank as he looked over-weight, slow, sluggish and very basic. The once sharp punching southpaw skills had seemingly long left him and had the bout been anywhere but Grozny he'd have almost certainly not picked up the win.
A year on from that narrow win we see Chagaev return to action to face Pianeta, who has previously faced the premier Heavyweight on the planet, Wladimir Klitschko. Klitschko is, to date, the only man to have beaten Pianeta, who was stopped a little more than 2 years ago by Dr Steelhammer.
Although Pianeta was dominated by Klitschko he is on a 3 fight winning streak over relatively weak opponents. His real claim to success is the fact he's a former EBU-EU champion holding the “European Union” title back in 2008-2009. Back then he scored some notable wins including a decision over the under-rated Johann Duhaupas and a stoppage against veteran Matt Skelton.
Aged 30 Pianeta is still a man with plenty of time left in his career. Like Chagaev he's a southpaw though unlike Chagaev he's never managed to prove himself near the top level. He's basic, lumbering and slow. Although a big man at 6'5” he doesn't do much to really stand out from the other predictable fringe contenders that seem to be awaiting a shot at another money fight. He's solid in most areas but nothing stands out about any particular part of his game.
Whilst Pianeta isn't impressive we don't see Chagaev having 12 good rounds left in him. In fact if anything he maybe has 6 rounds. Pianeta can be stopped but we see Chagaev being worn down late in what should go down as one of the most disappointing “Heavyweight world title fights” in years. Neither guy really belongs anywhere near a world title, even in this diluted era of title belts, though this is the joke that the WBA seem happy to keep playing on us.
The first “big” Filipino fight for us this month comes at Light Flyweight where WBO champion Donnie Nietes (35-1-4, 21) defends his belt against mandatory challenger Francisco Rodriguez Jr (17-2-1, 11). Whilst this is a mandatory title fight it is also one of the very best bouts that could be made at Light Flyweight, a division that has often been over-looked.
Nietes has been one of the most impressive lower-weight fighters over the last few years. He first became a world champion back in September 2007, at Minimumweight, and has held a world title every since. On paper his record is impressive with just a single, controversial, loss in 40 fights and in reality he's proven he can cope with anyone.
There are some who will suggest that Neites' competition has been poor over the years but wins over the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre and Moises Fuentes are solid wins.
In the ring Nietes can do it all and has evolved over he years. At his best he's a phenomenal counter puncher who can stand in the pocket, land laser like shots and make opponents pay for every mistake. At other times he's a frustrating guy to watch, who relies on his natural ability and sleep walks through fights, as he did in his first meeting with Moises Fuentes. In recent times he's not only been a sharp counter puncher but he's been one who has been making statements with 4 successive stoppages against decent Mexican opponents.
A big question regarding Nietes, and one of the few that will linger over his head going in to the future, is his age. He's already 33 and with 40 bouts, 274 rounds, on the clock he may find himself getting old over-night. He's not shown his age yet but we know fighters in the lower weights do age suddenly and Nietes may go from ultra-sharp to “on the slide” almost in a single fight.
As for for the challenger, Rodriguez will be looking to build on a sensational 2014. He came from absolutely nowhere to be in the running for the hardcore fans Fighter of the Year as he unified both the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles in stunning back-to-back performances and, were it not for a draw against Jomar Fajardo we'd have had no complaints with anyone voting for Rodriguez. The year saw him fight 4 times though he first came to our attention when he battered Merlito Sabillo to claim the WBO Minimumweight title just a few months later he over-came Katsunari Takayama to add the IBF title to his collection, in a bout later dubbed by many as the 2014 FOTY.
In the ring Rodriguez has had some mixed fortunes. At 105lbs he seemed to be really big and really strong with an aggressive attitude that saw him effectively fight as a bully. When he's fought at a higher weight, as he did in both in 2 fights with Fajardo, he has struggled to make his strength and power count. From those results it does seem like Fajardo isn't really ready to move up too high, though of course they were fought well above the Light Flyweight limit. At 108lbs he may well be more effective than he was against Faardo.
Aged 21 Rodriguez has a really, really bright future ahead of him. He's already been mixing with some genuinely elite level fighters, such as Roman Gonzalez, and has scored two huge wins. One more, over Nietes, would put Rodriguez on the verge of becoming one of the most accomplished youngster fighters in the sport. Although accomplished we do wonder how Rodriguez fares when the crowd want to see him beat, and when he's facing a real technician like Nietes. Against Sabillo and Takayama we saw Rodrgiuez beat fighters, warriors and men who traded with him, that won't be the case here.
In their ring we're expecting a little bit of a bull Vs matador. Rodriguez will know that to win on the road he needs to clearly win the bout and this will make him even more aggressive than usual. The extra aggressiveness will give Nietes chances and the Filipino will make the most of the opening to land crisp and clean straights and uppercutts. If Rodriguez can walk through the, then we wouldn't be shocked to see the fight become an all out war of attrition. If they take their toll however and Rodriguez slows then we see Nietes taking a relatively comfortable decision win.
The interesting scenario is if they do end up going to war. We think that would favour Rodriguez though he really will need to win the rounds clearly to get the win...and we don't think he'll manage that.
We wouldn't be shocked if this was the fight of the month, but really don't see the title changing hands, even if the fight end sup being one that the neutral would give to the visitor.
We all hate the proliferation of “interim” titles from the WBA. They are, of course, a way for the WBA to line their pockets with additional sanctioning fees. Despite our issues with the “interim” titles they do, occasionally, give us some good match ups. One such match up occurred last year when Knockout CP Freshmart (now 10-0, 5) defeated Carlos Buitrago to claim the WBA “interim” Minimumweight title. We get another mouth watering title bout at the start of July as Knockout makes the second defense of his title and takes on fellow unbeaten Alexis Diaz (16-0, 10).
Back in the old days, when titles weren't handed out by the WBA like candy, this would have been an excellent eliminator style bout to face the “real” champion. With so many belts out there however we see the two men throwing leather for a belt even one as fake and “plastic” as this. Despite the the fake belt...the bout it's self is brilliant and the sort of thing we, as fans, love to see. Well matched and with both men seeking a big win.
Anyway on to the fighters. Knockout CP Freshmart is probably the holder of the best name in the sport, and he's also a really solid boxer-puncher. He turned pro following a very successful Muay Thai career. It was due to that background that Knockout's team put him straight into 10 round bouts, and on his debut he claimed the WBC Youth title.
Following 7 defenses of the WBC youth strap Knockout took on Buitrago in an excellent match up for the interim title. Sadly for Knockout the bout showed a lot of his flaws, despite the fact he got the win. For much of the bout Knockout looked predictable and came forward in relative straight lines whilst being tagged by Buitrago's sharp rangy shots. In the end Knockout, who did look strong and aggressive, got the decision partly due to where the fight was as opposed to legitimately “winning” it. Despite the less than sensational performance Knockout answered plenty of questions and proved he was tough, strong, aggressive and had the tank for 12 rounds fought at a good pace. It was clear that he wasn't the most illusive, or a monster puncher, but he was always gong to be coming forward and always looking to make things a fight.
Whilst “Knockout” isn't exactly the most apt name for the Thai, who is now at a 50% stoppage rate and has stopped just 2 of his last 6, the named has served 2 purposes. Firstly it's summed up his style which sees him fighting for the knockout, even if he doesn't tend to get it all that regularly now a days. Secondly it has got him real attention in the west, a remarkable for a Minimumweight from Thailand.
Aged 28 this is set to be the biggest fight so far for Diaz, a very promising fighter from Venezuela who has a been a professional for around 4 years and has never previously fought outside of Latin America. In fact just 5 of his 16 bouts have been outside of his homeland, with 4 of those 5 taking place in neighbouring Colombia. Although now a Minimumweight Diaz began his career at Flyweight and has been as high as 114¾lbs, before setting down at a much lower weight.
Although a relative unknown outside of the Latin American scene Diaz has been carving out a successful career and already holds notable wins over the likes of Ronald Ramos, Jorle Estrada and Luis De la Rosa. Those wins have won his praise with many who follow the lower weights and have seen him in action, likewise he has impressed with his power, skills and style.
Footage of Diaz isn't that easy to find though what does exist makes him look like a power, hard hitting, aggressive and quick fighter. He does look a bit crude at times but he look so strong and powerful that he could be a serious threat for most fighters in the division, he also appears to be big at the weight and very rangy.
Having seen what footage of Diaz was available he looks like a real threat to Knockout. It looks like Diaz hits harder, is faster and equally as strong. Knockout is possibly a bit stronger and more refined but not by a lot. What we're expecting is for the two men to really let their hands go and for Diaz to have an excellent start. If Knockout can see out the early storm then we'll see what Diaz is really made of, though it does seem like he will be a handful through out the bout.
One thing going in Knockout's favour, big time, is the fact the fight it in Thailand in hellish conditions for visiting fighters. Thailand is the country we often suggest is the most difficult country to get a win in and we suspect we'll see that here with Diaz coming up short on the cards despite a stirring effort. There is, of course, a chance he won't travel well though we expect he'll really put on a show and lose a controversial decision.
(Image courtesy of thairec.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.