The WBA “interim” titles are a scourge to boxing. There are simply too many of them and too many are going to undeserving fighters, often beating fighters who deserved to be no where near a title opportunity themselves. Whilst sometimes the interim titles give us amazing fights, such as 2013's war between Koki Eto and Kompayak Porpramook, they tend to be mismatches to give one fighter a leg up at the expense of an over-matched and under-whelming foe, such as Randy Petalcorin's bout with Walter Tello from last year.
We suspect we're about to see another of those good match ups in late July as the WBA attempt to appease their friends in Thailand and help make Stamp Kiatniwat (13-0, 6) a “world champion” aged just 17.
Stamp, who has been impressive at times, will be taking on little known Dominican puncher Gregorio Lebron (13-2, 11) for the WBA “interim” Flyweight title. A belt that was last held by another Thai, Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep who managed to take it from the aforementioned Koki Eto.
On paper the bout looks like a good test for Stamp, the usual step up in class where a fighter moves from facing journeymen to opponents that try to win. In reality however the bout is a politic move by the WBA who seem to already know that Stamp could be worth a lot of money for a Flyweight and is unlikely to really push for fights with either the WBA “regular” or “super” champions. It's another nice revenue stream for the “Association”, but one that further dents their reputation, or what is left of their reputation.
Stamp Kiatniwat is a really promising young fighter. The 18 year old has been a pro for little more than 2 years and yet has already scored a really big win over Kwanthai Sithmorseng. That win should entitle the youngster to, at very least, a world ranking. He has also won, and defended, the interim PABA Flyweight title, further winning favour with the WBA. For Stamp to have a world ranking, and for Stamp to be considered a viable challenger to a world champion isn't hard to believe, even if that ranking was the lower end of the top 15 and his shot was a voluntary shot by a generous champion.
Typically Thai boxers are known as relatively basic come-forward guys who are very strong but not the most technically astute fighters. Stamp however is a bit more of a rounded boxer with a boxer-puncher style who enjoys fighting at mid-range, can force the action or fight as a counter-puncher. At the moment he does appear to lack his “man strength”, though as a teenager that is to be expected, though that lack of power has almost forced him into needing to hone his skills. Sometimes however he does get caught in the almost stereotypical “Thai” mindset of “I'm going to outfight you”, which was a massive issue against the tough Espinos Sabu who really pushed Stamp hard.
On paper the best win Stamp has was the one over Kwanthai, a former world champion, in reality however the win over Sabu was the most telling. Stamp boxed excellently early on, with a very sharp jab, intelligent movement and good counters. Later in the bout however he seemed to run out of steam and was really forced to grit his teeth and see out the storm. That would have been an excellent learning experience for the youngster who will have developed more in the final few rounds of that fight than in all the other bouts together.
As for Lebron the 33 year old has done very little of note. He has beaten 4 fighters with winning records and is on an 11 fight winning streak, including a win over Angelo Munoz for the WBA Fedelatin title last September, in what is Lebron's most recent bout, 10 months ago. That win was Lebron's biggest to date, after a 4 year career.
From the footage of Lebron he's a strong looking pressure fighter, a bit of a bull in fact. He appears to be very strong, comes forward with a lot of upper body movement and looks like a very confident fighter capable of cutting the ring down. He's not the quickest, or most accurate, but he looks like the sort of fighter who could be a very good gatekeeper for the division.
On paper Lebron looks like a big puncher. From the footage we've seen it seems more that he's heavy handed rather than a KO artist, but every shot he lands takes a toll and is thrown with bad intentions. Not only does he put real spite on his shots but he throws vicious combinations when he has a stationary target. If you can limit him to one shot at a time you have a chance to make him miss and make him pay, however if you stand and trade with him he could really do damage.
To date all of Lebron's bouts have been in the Dominican Republic, a stark world of difference to Thailand. He has looked impressive and he passes the “eye test” if you will, even if his competition does leave a lot to be desired. This is a huge step up for him, but it's impossible to rule him out given what we've seen.
Whilst we are cynical about the WBA's motives in making this bout we must admit that this actually should be a really good fight. We know Lebron's competition has been terrible, really it has, but watching him suggests he can actually fight. If Lebron is as good as recent footage suggests, he could end up being a real surprise package for the Thai's who well have over-looked him. Stamp is the more technically proficient fighter but Lebron is the bigger puncher, looks to be the stronger guy and certainly not the type of guy you want to stand and fight with. If Stamp decides to trade we'll find out a lot about his toughness, though we suspect the Thai will try to stay on the move and use his movement, as well as the Thai conditions, to try and take a decision.
(Image courtesy of "The Champion Thailand")
Despite it's huge size China has been one of boxing's great under-achievers with just a solitary world champion, Xiong Zhao Zhong. Whilst a lot of that success, or rather lack of, has been down to the way China failed to embrace professional sports until recently we've yet to see the big wave of Chinese fighters in or around the top of the sport. Whilst we have seen Chinese fighters fall short recently, with both Zou Shiming and Ma Yi Ming proving to be a long way from being world class.
Up next for Chinese boxing is the enigmatic Ik Yang (19-0-0-1, 14) who looks to claim the vacant IBF Light Welterweight title as he takes on fellow unbeaten Cesar Rene Cuenca (47-0-0-2, 2), from the boxing hotbed of Argentina.
Unlike Ming and Shiming it's fair to say there is something a little bit special about Yang. It's hard to say “what” is special about him, but there is certainly something that stands out about him. It could be the fact he seems to fight like a wild man with taunting and shots from very unorthodox angles, it could be peculiar defense or his personality but he's a special fighter and potentially the figure of Chinese boxing movement over the next few years.
In the ring Yang is a showman who brings a languageless charisma to the ring. Whilst there he can box and he can fight. Although crude he brings a bang and real excitement, something Chinese boxing has lacked at times, despite the success of Rex Tso. Although perhaps lacking something upstairs it does seem like Yang knows how to play an audience and how to get the media to pay attention to him. In fact in Yang's Macau debut, back in June 2012, he actually stole his show with his boxing and got rave reviews by many who saw him in action.
Since making his Macau debut more than 3 years ago Yang has become a staple in the area with 4 fights there, including his excellent win over Patomsuk Pathompothong in March. It was that win that opened the door to the “Wildman of Chinese boxing” to get his world title fight, though at the time it wasn't clear who he'd be fighting, or when.
Since Yang's win over Patomsuk we've seen American fighter Lamont Peterson get stripped of his title, and open up a fight between Yang and Argentina's infamous Cuenca, a man with a 4.08% stoppage rate.
Cuenca boasts one of the long unbeaten runs in the sport. At 49 fights he has actually gone more fights with out a loss than Floyd Mayweather Jr, however he has never competed close to the level of Mayweather. In fact in his 49 fights it's hard to find too many recognisable opponents. His most notable foes are probably Albert Mensah, Carlos Wilfredo Vilches and Jose Alfaro. Good fighters in their own right, but not sensational fighters by any means.
Cuenca's most recent bout was his contest with Mensah back in May 2014. That bout was an IBF eliminator and it showed a lot of what Cuenca is about. He's a fight who uses a lot of quick and intelligent movement whilst using his jab as his key weapon. He's got good timing and is technically well schooled though his lack of power is real issue and he often looks a little predictable fighting almost entirely behind his southpaw jab, though he does have a sharp straight left. It's also notable that he seems to slap a lot of his punches and rarely puts his weight fully into a shot.
Something that is notable about Cuenca's past fights is that they often take place in large rings allowing him to make the most of his movement. What's notable is that he won't have that same privilege in Macau. Instead he'll be dumped into a relatively small ring where space will be at a premium and where he'll be forced to use a lot more energy to stay away from his foe.
Watching Cuenca is actually really interesting for his movement with is genuinely very intelligent. However he's now 34 and hasn't fought in a year. Those things will almost certainly effect his energy, timing and sharpness, all of which he depends on when he's at his best. If he runs out of steam or can't control a wild man like Yang he could find himself in a lot of trouble, especially late on.
We're expecting to see a less than sharp Cuenca in action and we're expecting to see him put into a ring that isn't friendly to his style. If we're right then the Argentinian will find himself forced to fight more than usual. Although technically a much better boxer than Yang we're expecting to see Cuenca bulled about, rushed, and tagged by caveman like shots from the Chinese fighter who will always look the busier man. Given Cuenca is quite negative but appears to be tough we're expect to see him make schedule but lose a wide decision with the judges not buying in to his hit and run strategy.
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.