To kick off the month of September we'll see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) make a third successive mandatory defense of his title, as he takes on Mexican warrior Francisco Rodriguez Jr (34-4-1, 24), in a mouth watering bout that is sadly going under-the-radar. And will sadly be held in front of an empty arena as the affects of Covid19 on Japanese sport continues to take it's toll. On paper the bout is a genuinely excellent one between one of the sports most talented boxers and a thrilling all action warrior, and the styles of the two fighters should gel to provide us with a sensational bout.
For those who have lived under a rock for the last 10 years we do perhaps need to talk about just how good Kazuto Ioka is, and also what's been going on in his life in the last few months.
The highly skilled man from Osaka had boxing in his blood, with his uncle being a multi-time world champion and his father also being a professional fighter. When he made his professional debut, aged 20, he was put on the fast tracked and groomed for success, something that came incredibly quickly. Within 18 months of his debut he beat Masayoshi Segawa to claim the Japanese title at 108lbs. Just a few months later he went on to stop Thailand Oleydong Sithsamerchai, who was then 35-0-1, to claim the WBC Minimumweight title. Soon afterwards Ioka unified the WBC and WBA titles, beating Akira Yaegashi, before moving up the weights and winning titles at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and most recently Super Flyweight. Along the way he has beaten a real who's who of the lower weights, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo and mostly recently Kosei Tanaka. Were it not for Naoya Inoue, and his incredible career, Ioka would be regarded as the king of Japanese right now. Instead he's playing the role of backing singer to The Monster, but wants to change that with bouts against some of the top guys in the sport.
Sadly since beating Kosei Tanaka at the end of 2020 Ioka has been embroiled in a feud with the JBC, who leaked details of a failed drug test. A drug test that suggest Ioka had taken multiple banned substances including marijuana, an illegal drug in Japan. Ioka was later cleared, complete, with revelations that the testing had not followed normal protocol, and was likely tainted and damaged by the fact his sample wasn't frozen and hadn't been kept properly. Later leading the JBC to clear him, and take responsibility. That however will be a very notable sub-story coming into this bout, and there will be a lot of questions about how that may effect Ioka ahead of this bout, his first since that saga.
In the ring Ioka is one of the best fighters on the planet, and deserves a high pound for pound ranking, though maybe just misses out on a top 10 slot. The talented Japanese boxer is a fantastic body puncher, a very intelligent fighter, with good ring craft, and a very versatile tool set. We've seen him box, we've seen him play counter puncher, we've seen him pressure and we've even seen him play the role of a puncher over the years. Again Tanaka he played the role very good counter puncher, neutralising the speed of Tanaka well with his timing and just a fight earlier he pressured Jeyvier Cintron, and used his body shots to neutralise a much bigger, faster man. There are holes in Ioka's game, but they are few and far between, and with Ismael Salas acting as his trainer, a lot of the focus is on understanding his opponent, and building a game plan to beat them. That really is Ioka's biggest strength, his adaptability, and the fact he can be an enigma when he needs to be.
Whilst Ioka is a major player in the sport the same can't be said of Rodriguez, though it did once seem like he was well on his way to being a true star of the lower weights. Like many Mexican fighters he started young, debuting in 2010 at the age if 18, and he reeled off 8 straight wins, 7 by stoppage, to begin his career. In 2012 he suffered his first loss but bounced back quickly and was 14-1 (12) when he got his first real bout of note, against a then 35-0 Roman Gonzalez. Rodriguez put up a fine effort, but was stopped in 7 rounds by Gonzalez. For a young fighter to have given his all against Gonzalez, in Nicaragua no less, this was a loss that showed what Rodriguez had to offer the sport and just 6 months later he went on to stopped WBO Minimumweight champion Merlito Sabillo to claim his first world title. Just 5 months later he went on to defeat Katsunari Takayama in arguably the best fight of 2014, to unify the WBO and IBF titles. At that point in time he looked like one of the hottest young things in world boxing but sadly a move up in weight saw his career hit a snag, suffering an unexpected draw to Jomar Fajardo, and losses to Donnie Nietes and Moises Fuentes. That left him desperately needing to rebuild. And rebuild he has! In fact he's won his last 15 bouts, with 11 stoppages, beating the likes of Ramon Garcia Hirales, Yohei Tobe, Hernan Marquez, Oswaldo Novoa and Martin Tecuapetla during that run.
In the ring Rodriguez isn't a smart fighter. He's not an intelligent boxer, or a crafty counter puncher. Instead he's a pretty intense, in your face, aggressive warrior, coming to have a fight. Although not a huge puncher in terms of 1-shot power, Rodriguez is a brute, his pressure, work rate and tenacity often being too much for opponents Watching him we see a fighter who isn't technical, he isn't accurate, and he's not the most natural of boxers. But he is a fighter, who lets combinations go, uses head movement and does a very under-rated jab, which he uses well to dictate moments. At his best however he's a warrior on the inside, through uppercuts, hooks and switching his attack between head and body. He's developed more as a boxer, rather than a bully, over the years, but is still at his best as a bully with grinding pressure.
Whilst Rodriguez has tried boxing more in recent years we don't see him applying that approach here. He would come off second best for almost every second of every round. Boxing a master boxer like Ioka is not a good idea, unless you are also a master technician. Instead we expect to see Rodriguez trying to apply pressure, and make this a tear up on the inside. Although it's not in Ioka's best interest to fight that type of fight, we do expect the Japanese star to hold his feet a lot and make this into a tear up for the TV viewers.
Sadly with no fans in attendance we don't expect this to feel like a world title fight, but we do imagine a lot of excitement, and it'll be a fight we wish had fans in the venue.
After 12 rounds we're expecting a wide and clear win for Ioka, though we do expect him to have a lot of questions asked of him, and for Rodriguez to show no quit at all. The Mexican will be there from the opening bell to the final seconds, and he'll be putting in an honest shift, but coming up short.
Prediction - UD12 Ioka
One of the worst things about boing in the last few years has been the sheer number of bouts that have had to be cancelled for one reason or another. Recently Covid19 has caused a lot of mess to planned bouts, but so to have things like visa issues and injuries. One bout that has been cancelled recently is a show down between Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39) and unbeaten American Welterweight star Errol Spence Jr (27-0, 21), in what was set to be one of the boxing highlights of the summer. That was cancelled when Spence was deemed medically unfit to fight. Thankfully however American based Cuban Yordenis Ugas (26-4, 12) shows his fighters mentality and has taken his chance to face Pacquiao in Spences' absence in a bout we'll get this weekend.
Whilst clearly a big step down from what we were expecting, this is still a really good bout, and one with a really interesting sub story, that of the WBA Welterweight "Super" title which was taken from Pacquiao by the WBA last year. The styles should also gel well, and in many ways this could end up being a very fan friendly bout even if Ugas doesn't have the star power than Spence does.
Before we talk about what we expect when we get the men in to the ring, we do need to touch on the WBA super title back story. Paquiao won that title in 2019, when he defeated Keith Thurman in a brilliant performance at the age of 40. That was, however, 2 years ago. In early 2021 Pacquiao of the title due to inactivity, during a time when a pandemic forced a lot of fighters to be inactive, and was named champion in Recess. Following Pacquiao being stripped Ugas was upgraded from the Regular champion, something he became in September 2020 with a win over Abel Ramos, to the Super champion, despite having never defended the regular title. Whilst it might seem like a little thing, especially in an era where the WBA pop out titles at an alarming rate, it was still a very questionable decision, especially given that they have not yet had a bout for the regular title since Ugas won it, in September 2020.
On to the fighters themselves, it's fair to say that Pacquiao needs no introduction. The Filipino fighter has been a staple of the sport for over 20 years, and has made a name for himself as one of the sports few truly global mega stars. He's been a Filipino hero, a huge international fan favourite, and one of the legends of the sport. His moves through the weights has been remarkable, as has his longevity, and sustained success at the top. He is one of the true greats and has won titles from Flyweight to Light Middleweight, whilst also having a fun style, putting on great fights and beating a string of icons, hall of famers, and modern greats.
Sadly at the age of 42, and with 2 years of inactivity, it's really hard to know what Pacquiao has left in the tank, though he did look very good against Keith Thurman, dropping Thurman on route to a decision win. He's not the explosive Phenom that he once was, and is much slower now a days to what he once was, but he's adapted brilliantly, he's still heavy handed, and he knows how to control the tempo of bouts well. He's used his experience, ring craft and the lessons learned in the ring to change his style, and rather than being the explosive dervish of destruction, he's now a more apt, skilled and rounded fighter. In his last few fights he's still looked dangerous, but he's less active and much smarter between the ropes, rather than the risk taking aggressive monster he once was.
For years Yordenis Ugas was an over-looked threat in the Light Welterweight and Welterweight divisions, and one of the sports unlucky men. So far 3 of his 4 losses have been split decisions, including one to Shawn Porter, and he's not really had much fortune at all during his career. In fact getting a Pacquiao payday on short notice is the one true bit of luck he's had, and sadly at the age of 35 it may well be too little too late for him to really make the most of. Despite being a hard luck fighter he's become a bit of a fan favourite in recent years, thanks to a mix of his poor luck, and good story, as well as his in ring style and willingness to face anyone any time. During his 30 fight career he has faced numerous unbeaten fighters, and man who were seen as high risk low reward, such as Levan Ghvamichava, Thomas Dulorme and Ray Robinson, and has not been someone willing to turn down a fighter or an opportunity. Something we again see here.
Unlike some Cuban fighters, we're looking Guillermo Rigondeaux, Ugas isn't scared of a fight. He's not a true all out war monger, but he's a fighter who has always shown a willingness to go to war when he needs to, and is happy to get on the front foot. He's a smart boxer, and doesn't take too many undue risks, but he's also not going to make fans boo him out of the venue. Instead he's an aggressive, intelligent fighter, who can spoil when he needs to, dig deep when he needs to, and is a fighter who grits his teeth when he's behind, making a lot of his fights very close. Ugas is often in front of his man, using a good jab, pressing forward and fighting a smart, yet exciting style of fight, where punches will be traded, and he does open up with some very nice flurries whilst also being defensively smart. He is however now 35 years old, and we do wonder whether father time, and inactivity, could begin to take a toll on him in the coming years. He's younger than Pacquiao, sure, but he's also not the once in a life time talent that Pacquiao is, and it could be that Ugas has lost more to father time than the Filipino.
One thing we're expecting here is a bout that is fought in an exciting manner, even if neither man is a spring chicken. We expect the styles to gel really well, with Ugas intelligently pressuring, and Pacquiao looking to get bursts of shots off before getting out of ring. It won't be an intense fight, we don't think either man has it in them to consistently throw 100 punches in a round, but we do expect some really exciting back and forth moments. Ugas will get to Pacquiao at times, and as the rounds go on the pressure of Ugas will get him more and more success.
Sadly for the Cuban we think, by the time he begins to grind down the Filipino, he will have left himself too much to do, as we've seen from him at times in the past, and whilst it will be close, hotly contested and exciting, we suspect Pacquiao will have the rounds in the bank to take home a close, and debated, split decision win.
Prediction - SD12 Pacquiao
This coming Saturday we'll see the next step towards total unification in the Bantamweight division as WBO champion John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21) takes on WBA "regular" champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1-0-1, 13), essentially ridding us of the pointless and meaningless WBA "regular" title in a division with a busy and active "super" champion. Not only is this a major bout for the division, pitting two of the top 10 against each other, but it's also a brilliant match up from a styles perspective and a match up that really could see any number of outcomes. It could see either man being stopped, it could see one many looking his age or it could see the other having his technical flaws picked away at in embarrassing fashion.
For those who follow the lower weights the career of John Riel Casimero is an interesting one. He was from unknown Filipino hopeful, to journeyman, to being in the middle of riot in Argentina, to being back under the radar despite scoring decent wins, then becoming a 2-weight champion. It really wasn't until he stopped Charlie Edwards that European fans became aware of him, and it wasn't until he knocked out Zolani Tete that he broke through to becoming a notable name. That was despite the fact he had already been a 2-weight champion and had beaten the likes of Cesar Canchila Luis Alberto Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Mauricio Fuentes and Amnat Ruenroeng. Thankfully since beating Tete he has become one of the most interesting fighters in the lower weights, showing off a flamboyant in ring style, a loud and obnoxious attitude, an incredible amount of trolling towards Naoya Inoue, and a personality that really is hard to ignore. He knows he's got some attention, and he seems desperate to keep a hold of it.
Through out his career Casimero has never been a technical fighter. He's always relied on being quick, powerful and heavy handed. He is, essentially, and explosive puncher, and has the flaws of an explosive crude puncher. Despite those flaws he's also a fighter no one can overlook, and it only takes a single shot from him to turn a fight around, as we saw against Zolani Tete in 2019. He is dangerous, he's experienced, and like a viper he strikes when opponents least expect it. Despite being experienced however he can be rash, he can be open to counters, he can take risks he doesn't need to and he can also sleep walk through bouts, as we saw against Jonas Sultan. He's unpredictable, inconsistent, and whilst he is a brilliant fighter, he can also be very frustrating at times.
Whilst Casimero spent years flying under the radar that was never really the case with Guillermo Rigondeaux. The Cuban turned professional after winning 2 Olympics gold medals and had long been regarded as one of the best amateurs on the planet. He was then moved ultra-aggressively when he began his career, and it was clear that his handlers knew he could be a star he made his professional debut in May 2009 and just 18 months later he beat the very good Ricardo Cordoba for the WBA "interim" Super Bantamweight title. He would win the full version of the title in 2012, and seemed set to become a star. In 2013 he was given a huge bout, facing Nonito Donaire in a WBA/WBO unification bout. It was the door to superstardom, put open for Rigondeaux. The Cuban won, but he didn't put on a show. He instead frustrated fans and the media. His negativity turned fans off, and a follow up defense against Joseph Agbeko saw fans leave the venue, during his main event bout. Since that bout with Agbeko his career has never really recovered. He's been inactive at times, had a career filled with poor decision making, including taking a bout with Vasyl Lomachenko in 2017.
Rigondeaux was groomed to be a star, but poor decisions, horrific management, self sabotage and a frustrating style, saw him fall out with almost every power player in the sport. He went from a fighter who should have been a star, to someone fans didn't want to watch, and opponents didn't want to fight. He was high risk, low reward and provided almost nothing to entice opponents into the ring. Even two world titles wasn't enough to help make fights with him in what was a hot, exciting era at Super Bantamweight.
In recent fights Rigondeaux has taken more risks, he has been caught more and at 40 he is losing a something. He is however a very intelligent fighter, with a counter punchers mentality. His left hand is vicious, and quick, sharp, and powerful. He has one of the best brains in the sport, some of the best counters in the sport and event at 40 he's lighting lighting sharp.
At his best Rigondeaux would have a field day with Casimero. The Cuban would draw leads and avoid them, he'd frustrate Casimero, he's make the Filipino look stupid, rash and like an idiot, before lowering the boom and landing a brutal straight left hand. Casimero would do enough to make the fight watchable, but would be on the wrong end of a beating.
Now a days however it's hard to know what Rigondeaux really has has left. We suspect it's no longer enough to beat a genuine world class fighter. In fact we expect one of Casimero's wild, looping shots will catch the Cuban and lead to him falling apart. And we expect that to happen early in the bout. The longer it goes the more and more comfortable Rigondeaux will get, and we expect Casimero and his team will know that they need to jump on the Cuban quickly and not let him off the hook. If this goes past 5 rounds however Casimero will bee getting timed, and potentially being stopped himself.
Prediction - Casimero TKO3
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.