The Minimumweight division has been one of the sports most over-looked divisions. Although it's been over-looked it has often provided fantastic action with one of the best fights this year, the Katsunari Takayama/Francisco Rodriguez Jr fight, taking place at 105lbs.
Whilst there have been some great fights in the division this year it's been a terrible year for Asian fighters. We've seen Merlito Sabillo lose the WBO title, to Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Takayama lose the IBF title, also to Rodriguez Jr, and Xiong Zhao Zhong lose the WBC title to Osvaldo Novoa. To say it's been a nightmare division for Asian fighters this year is to merely state the obvious.
The next man looking to stop the rot is unbeaten Thai novice Knockout CP Freshmart (8-0, 5) who will be attempting to claim the WBA interim Minimumweight title when he takes on the very highly regarded Carlos Buitrago (27-0-1-1, 16) of Nicaragua.
For those who recognise Buitrago's name the odds are you know of, or even saw, his fantastic fight with Filipino fighter Merlito Sabillo, who was then the WBO Minimumweight champion. That performance, in the eyes of many, announced Buitrago on to the world scene and it was clear that he was a highly skilled offensively minded fighter with real potential to a lower-weight star. We'd certainly not suggest he's the next Roman Gonzalez but he does look like one of the most sure fire future world champions in the sport.
The Nicaraguan has lovely, smooth combinations, an aggressive mentality and with 29 professional fights under his belt he is experienced. Not only has he fought Sabillo, in the Philippines, but he has also fought in the USA and Mexico and scored wins over notable foes like Jorle Estrada, Gabriel Mendoza, Yader Escobar and Julian Yedras
As for the Thai he's best known for his name, which we admit is one of the best in the sport. Sadly for Knockout his name is probably more notable than his talent and although unbeaten he hasn't yet scored any really notable wins, at least not as a boxer. In fact in his 8 fights the most notable opponents he has faced have been Filipino's such as Cris Alfante, a 10 round decision, and Jonathan Refugio, a 5th round stoppage, and in neither of those bouts did he look ready to fight a world title fight. He looked promising but not promising enough to be rushed into a world title fight, even an interim one.
What we think has happened is that Knockout's team have too much belief in their man and are trying to show that belief by gambling his unbeaten record against a fellow young and promising fighter. Sometimes that sort of gamble works and a fighter announces themselves on he world stage. Sometimes that gamble back fires and the fighter gets knocked down the pecking order. We suspect that Knockout is going to be biting off more than he can chew here and although he'll put up a great effort, and he'll have home advantage, we suspect he'll come up short against one of the best young fighters in the division.
Although it's a huge ask for Knockout we do know that he will have a lot of support with the bout taking place in the new Buriram Raceway which should hold a lot of passionate Thai's all cheering on their man. Whether that will be enough to get their man the win or not is a big question though hopefully they'll manage to do their best to energise the Thai who will need all the help he can get.
(Image courtesy of our friends at the excellent Thairec.com)
There are some divisions in boxing that are criminally over-looked. Whilst many of those divisions involve smaller men from the Orient one of the divisions is the Cruiserweight divison, a division that has repeatedly given us brutal, bruising, vicious wars over the years. For whatever those wars have failed wo win over the US audience though for the hardcore they have provided some true FOTY contenders in the last 5 or 6 years.
One of the most brutal and controversial battles we've seen in recent years was the WBA Cruiserweight title fight between Panama's Guillermo Jones and Russia's Denis Lebedev. The bout saw both men landing bombs for fun though unfortunately it's better remembered for Lebedev ending up a swollen, grotesque and disfigured mess and the Jones failing a drugs test.
That bout came more than a year ago and although a rematch was scheduled Jones failed pre-fight drug test and as a result Lebedev hasn't fought since.
This week Lebedev (25-2, 19) returns to the ring as the WBA champion, having been handed back the title Jones had taken from him in their first bout. Some how the loss has stood on Lebedev's record but it seems clear that the loss was a dirty one and that the WBA accept it was a dirty one. Unfortunately for the Russian he doesn't return in a gimme like so many other fighters returning after a long break or a really vicious and damaging fight. Instead the all action-Russian will be battling against the unbeaten Polish challenger Pawel Kolodziej (33-0, 18) in what appears to be a fantastic bout and a baptism of fire for Lebedev considering the circumstances of his last bout.
At his best Lebedev is one of the sports most exciting, entertaining and brave fighters. He is an absolute warrior who believes in himself so much that he's willing to go to war. He's short, stout, powerful and hits like a mule. He may not be the most athletically gifted or the most technically sound boxer but he's a tank with heavy artillery and the capability to stand up to real howitzers, as shown in his bout with Jones, until he tired out and was stopped from exhaustion in round 11.
In many ways Lebedev is similar to a modern day Rocky Marciano. The two are similar in stature and in some ways similar in style with physicality and power making up for technical inadequacies. If you enjoy fights of attrition fought with rocket launchers you will love watching Lebedev, if he's even 90% of the fighter he once was.
As for Poland's unbeaten Kolodziej we've got to admit we've not seen a lot of him. What we have seen suggests that he's not the best Cruiserweight in Poland though at 6'4" he's a nightmare for anyone in the division, especially for someone like Lebedev who is a short guy for a Cruiserweight. The Pole is a fighter who uses his height well, throws a lot of straight shots and moves a lot to try and make sure he can use his jab to set up other shots. Unfortunately due to his height he does look fragile and a bit too thin and scrawny, a bit like Light Heavyweight compatriot Andrezj Fonfara. That's not to say he is fragile but he does look it.
The problem with knowing how good the Pole actually is, is that his competition has been awful, to be polite. His biggest name foes have been a long way past their sell by date and he's with out a defining fight of any type. In fact his best win is a narrow decision over Cesar David Crenz and in his career he has only completed the 10 round schedule 4 times in 33 fights, not a good sign when you're going into your first world title fight.
On paper this should be a stylistic nightmare for Lebedev. He is giving up a freakish 5" in height and a huge amount of reach, he is also coming back from his long lay off and will be expected to struggle for timing against a guy capable of throwing very crisp jabs. Saying that however Lebedev does have the ability to get inside on fighters and with his power, work rate and ferocity he will give tall fighters nightmares and manage to cut off the ring and break down fighters.
We're expecting Lebedev to start very slowly and cautiously. This may see him giving away 3 or 4 rounds as he tries to ring rust and get back his sense of self belief and confidence. When that happens we think he'll close the distance and rip the body of Kolodziej who will slowly, but surely, crumble in the second half of the fight. The Pole being punished for his lack of competition prior to this fight and his relatively open body that will be a nice juicy target for the Russian destroyer.
(Image courtesy of http://akboxing.ru)
Around 15 months ago Poland's Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (49-2-1, 35) traveled to Moscow and over-came the extremely hotly tipped Rakhim Chakhkiev in a multi-knockdown bout to defend his WBC Cruiserweight world title. The bout was great though showed how experience in the pro ranks can be the difference between a win and a loss. For Chakhkiev a lack of experience saw him starting like a rocket and tiring himself out before Wlodarczyk came back to stop him. For the Pole the fight was about remaining calm under the storm, riding it out, and coming back strong.
This week we see Wlodarczyk back in Moscow as he battles against the very experienced Grigory Drozd (38-1, 27), a man who is fighting for the 40th time as a professional but only getting his first shot at a world title, a much over-due shot if you ask us. We know Drozd lost in his most significant bout to date, a TKO at the hands of Firat Arslan, though that fight was almost 8 years ago and the Russian has improved markedly since then whilst Arslan continues to prove that he's a world class Cruiserweight.
Wlodarczyk is a funny fighter in many ways. He's often the "forgotten man" of the Cruiserweight division. He's the only top Cruiserweight not to ply his trade in Russia or Germany and although he has been a 2-time world champion, and a long time belt holder, he still seems to slip off the radar of many fans. We know the Polish fans do enjoy watching "Diablo" and he has built much of his career at home, which possibly why he is so over-looked, though he's also proven his worth on the road with wins in Australia, Russia and the USA.
In terms of Wlodarczyk the fighter he's a lazy fighter and a very slow starter though he combines that with a great engine, heavy hands, solid skills, a real toughness and a great work rate when he finally going. His combination of being tough, calm and heavy handed is really hard to beat and if you try and stop the odds are you're going to tire yourself out trying. The best way to beat him is to box and move, tie up where needed and not get involved in a real fight. We know he has had some gifts but that has generally been down to his laziness as opposed to his skills and when on the road he does seem to find that extra gear when he needs it, in fact all 3 of his wins on the road have been by stoppage.
As for Drozd he is the most over-looked of the Russian Cruiserweights right now. He lacks the destruction of Dmitry Kudryashov, the amateur background of Rakhim Chakhkiev and the brutal wars of Denis Lebedev but he is still genuinely world class and a really talented fighter. Despite being 35 he is riding a great run of results with an outstanding win over Poland's Mateusz Masternak being the best of the bunch.
What we have in Drozd's is a man willing to throw lots of punches, a man with solid and respectable power and although far, far from a concussive puncher he's a fighter will do damage cumulatively over the bout, like Wlodarczyk in some ways. Sadly however he does have that stoppage loss to Arslan hanging over his head and some will question just how tough he really is. We don't doubt he's tough but just how tough?
Sadly for Drozd it's that loss to Arslan that makes us wonder if he can come out the winner here. We're not suggesting Wlodarczyk is the same as Arslan but the similarities don't bode well for Drozd. An on song Wlodarczyk has granite determination and willingness to throw shots, especially when his man is hurt. That is what won Arslan his meeting with Drozd. If Wlodarczyk is on fire we feel he probably stops Drozd. If Wlodarczyk is anything less than 90% of his best however Drozd could score the upset in what could go down as one of the truly exceptional fights of the year. It really does depend on which version of the Pole turns up, the lazy one that struggled with Danny Green or the gritty one that saw off a whirlwind assault from Chakhkiev to dismantle the Russian in the middle rounds.
(Image courtesy of ponominalu.ru)
We all hate proliferation of "world titles" under the guise of "interim" or "Super" titles. In theory however we can fully understand the concept for an interim champion. If a fighter is unable to fight for some reason then we have no problem with an interim title fight, as long as the fighter is unable to fight for a reason that is out of their hands, for example a serious injury.
The current WBO Super Featherweight champion Mikey Garcia isn't currently on the sideline for an injury. Nor is he unavailable to fight for some really legitimate and serious reason. Instead Garcia is on the sideline due to a dispute with his promoter. In our eyes that isn't a reason for an organisation to allow an interim title fight, instead they should force the mandatory on the champion, in this case Garcia, and if the promoter and fighter cannot agree terms then send the bout to purse bids and allow other promoters to make the fight.
Despite our dislike out pointless interim title fights we do end up with some really interesting bouts for interim title belts and the next one of those that concerns us will see the WBO crown a Super Featherweight interim champion as Terdsak Kokietgym (53-4-1, 33) battles Orlando Salido (41-12-2-1, 28) whilst current champion Mikey Garcia attempts to sort out his promotional issues.
Terdsak, an experienced Thai, will be fighting his second interim world title fight having previously been bested by Juan Manuel Marquez in a bout for the WBO interim Featherweight title. That bout saw Terdsak suffer his only stoppage loss so far though showed he was below world class. Despite that loss however Terdsak has remained on the fringes and only lost to world class fighters, including Joan Guzman, Steve Luevano and most recently Takahiro Ao. Those bouts showed that whilst not the best in the world, Terdsak isn't a bad fighter. He's tough, experienced and fundamentally solid though has, like many Thai's, fought a lot of weaker fighters.
It's those bouts with weaker fighters that have had 2 effects on Terdsak's career. Firstly they have clearly padded his record helping him to over 50 wins. Secondly they have made him look less talented than he is and watching him it often seems like he is going through the motions happy to just do what's needed to get the win rather than look impressive doing it. In many ways that's an issue with the Thai system of having talented guys fight no hopers on a regular basis though on the other hand it does keep fighters busy and getting paid, something that can help a fighter in terms of their out of the ring life.
Whilst Terdsak is talented some will question whether or not he is truly world class or not. We'd suggest not, and in all honesty we're not sure he'd make the top 10 Super Featherweights in the Orient. That's despite his long and very interesting career.
Whilst Terdsak is experienced in terms of fights it's fair to say that Salido is the truly experienced fighter here. The Mexican, who will be fighting at home, has had marginally few bouts though has fought at a higher level more consistently, in fact Salido's opponent list reads like an international who's who of boxing. That includes Juan Manuel Marquez, Robert Guerrero, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Juan Manuel Lopez, Mikey Garica and Vasyl Lomachenko. What makes it even more impressive is that a lot of Salido's secondary wins have come against guys who would be amongst the better opponents on Terdsak's record, guys like Japan's Kenichi Yamaguchi or the limited but fun to watch Rogers Mtagwa.
Salido has made a long and successful career out of being a warrior. He's not the most skilled, he's not the biggest punchers, he's not the fastest and he's not going to impressive in terms of visually exciting qualities. What he does really well however is fight. He's a fighter fighters, he's a man who will get in the ring and happily take a shot to land his own, he will bore into an opponent in order to have a fight and unless a fighter is smart enough or quick enough to avoid him Salido will usually beat them up though sheer determination and will to win. That is what makes him such a fantastic fighter to watch and one of the most entertaining men in boxing.
Sadly for Terdsak we can only see one outcome here. A win for Salido. Due to the styles of the two men we don't just imagine a win for Salido but also a stoppage as the Mexican grinds down Terdsak in the middle and later rounds to force the referee to wave off the bout. The styles and level of competition simply favour Salido so much more over Terdsak and although Salido has taken damage in the course of his career he is still a very good fighter as he'll look to prove again here.
(Image courtesy of notifight.com)
Amnat returns to Thailand for mandatory against Arroyo and to add to his claim as the break through fighter of the year
When we discuss "Fight of the Year" candidates we all seem to over-look Thailand's Amnat Ruenroeng (13-0, 5) who has really emerged in 2014 as one of the most talented and most criminally under-rated fighters on the planet.
Amnat began 2014 as a fighter with an unbeaten 11-0 record though had never fought above fringe regional level. Already this year however he has claimed the IBF Flyweight title, with a solid victory over Filipino veteran Rocky Fuentes, and defended it against the previously unbeaten Kazuto Ioka. Usually if a fighter beats guys like Fuentes and Ioka in back-to-back fights they rightfully get raved about but Amnat hasn't had that level of respect as of yet.
The Thai will be looking to score his 3rd win of the year when he returns on September 10th and battles heavy hitting Puerto Rican McWilliams Arroyo (15-1, 13), the mandatory challenger to Amnat's IBF title. A win here for Amnat should make him a cert for any short lists for fighter of the year, or at very last break out fighter of the year. Like his previous 2 bouts this year a win for Amnat is not a given.
The champion is a very highly skilled fighter with an unusual calmness in the ring. Nothing seems to fluster him, nothing appears to worry him and like so many other extremely talented fighters he appears to find that extra half a second as and when he needs it. This in many ways makes his counter punching so beautiful as he rides shots, narrowly avoids then blocks with ease before firing back counters on the ropes. It's a thing of beauty and adds a brilliant dimension to a fighter who is, at his best, a boxer-mover who lands light but sharp shots then moves away before repeating the sharp and accurate shots that often discourage opponents.
Whilst Amnat is a pure boxer with a solid game inside and outside Arroyo is more of a puncher-boxer. He can box but his power is his selling point and he really does have lights out power, as he showed in style against Filipino Froilan Saludar who took just 1 clean punch but was left gazing at the lights unaware he was even in a boxing ring. When you have that sort of power your boxing skills can often decline and that appears to have been the case with Arroyo who was being out boxed until he caught Saludar with a bomb as Saludar dropped his hands slightly and opened the door for the Puerto Rican. His boxing skills are there though we doubt just how much of those skills are still there and haven't been eroded over the last few years which have combined inactivity with a lack of rounds.
Another thing to note going into this bout is that Arroyo won;t just be competing with Amnat but also the conditions in Thailand which are never welcoming to a visiting fighter, on fact Thailand is the worst place to go as a visitor due to the way they stage fights. They are often out doors, in extreme heat, high humidity and in the middle of the day. Whilst not all fights are outdoors even the indoor ones seem to be held in hot and humid conditions, conditions not many fighters are used to. Of course like any country the officials also seem to give the home fighter the benefit of the doubt in close rounds and we've seen some astonishing result come out of Thailand in recent years that have really beggared belief, such as the Jonathan Taconing/Kompaak Porpramook bout or the Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep/Takuya Kogawa fight both of which really should have gone to the visiting fighter. We are expecting better judging here but we do expect Amnat to get the benefit in any sort of a close round.
Saying that however we actually don't think this is a hugely tough bout for Amnat to win a decision in. In fact Amnat's biggest issue will be whether or not he can complete the 12 rounds. If Arroyo can tag Amnat really clean then there is every chance of the title going back to Puerto Rico though we tend to feel that if Amnat if at 90% of his best then that's not going to happen. Instead Amnat is going to get into range, land his shots and get out of there before Arroyo can react. Round after round we will see Amnat piling up the points on the move and he makes Arroyo look like a clumsy operator. Every so often we will see Amnat on the ropes though we don't see him getting caught clean too often and if he is we think he'll ride the shots well to take the sting out of the shots. It is, afterall, what he does so well in between the ropes.
We tend to feel that Arroyo is dangerous enough to keep this exciting and to keep Amnat on his toes, but not busy enough to really test the Thai, barring a lucky bomb and a possible follow up. So far however Amnat's only real struggle has been against the intense pressure and work of Fuentes, two things we don't expect to see from Arroyo.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kiatkreerin.com)
It's not every week that we get a genuine super fight but on September 5th we get one of the best match ups that the sport could possibly throw us. A bout that it genuinely amazing and a bout that not only looks good as a match up but is also significant in terms of both the Flyweight division and the legacy of both men.
The fight, a WBC Flyweight title fight, will see Japanese champion Akira Yaegashi attempt to record his 4th defence of the title whilst his opponent, Roman Gonzalez, will be attempting to become the second ever 3-weight world champion from Nicaragua and further enhance his reputation as one of the most truly elite fighters on the planet.
The defending champion Yaegashi (20-3, 10) is one of Japanese boxing's best kept secrets though like many of the lower weight fights, such as Katsunari Takayama. He possesses a number of the stereo typical Japanese qualities, the most notable of those qualities is his extreme toughness which has seen him through a number of tough battles, notably his contest with Eagle Den Junlaphan and his bout with Kazuto Ioka. Sadly for Yaegashi he has had to rely on that toughness numerous times over the course of his career due to his defensive limitation and, again like Takayama, he has had to eat more than his share of shots in a tough career.
Aged 31 Yaegashi is getting on for a lower weight fighter and despite having only fought in 23 bouts he has fought in a lot of hard bouts. Those bouts with Junlaphan and Ioka as well as his bouts with Pornsawan Porpramook and Toshiyuki Igarashi would all have “added years” to Yaegashi the boxer and that is a problem, especially considering that the damage he has received has seen his eyes and face swell in numerous bouts, sometimes to the extent that a fight could have been stopped.
As well as the wear and tear Yaegashi has found that his power really isn't effective at the world level. He may have 10 stoppages form his 23 career fights but that includes just 5 from his last 18 bouts and he has actually only scored 2 stoppages in his 7 world title bouts and just 3 in his last 11 bouts!
When we talk about Gonzalez (39-0, 33) we again find ourselves talking about a fighter who is incredibly over-looked by many in the boxing world. Out side of the ring Gonzalez is a charming young man though in between the ropes he is a pure pressure fighter who stalks behind a tight guard, unloads with vicious and quick combinations and is extremely smart in the way he applies pressure, it's constant but intelligent. Worryingly for opponents Gonzalez combines sensational speed, frightening power, smart movement, sturdy defence and a very tough chin, even when tagged cleanly he shows no sign of discomfort.
If he was fighting above 130lbs Gonzalez would be widely regarded as one of the best fighters on the planet. Instead the diminutive Nicaraguan is a man known only to those hardcore fans who make the effort to follow the lower weights. As is often the case those fans are rewarded and in this case they get the to see a destructive, vicious and spiteful fighter who goes to the ring with the intention of beating up foes and not just getting the win.
For a 27 year old Gonzalez seems to have been around for what feels like a lifetime. That's probably because he made his debut all the way back in 2005 as a very baby faced 18 year old and also because he was just 21 when he won his first world title, the WBA Minimumweight title, with a classy performance against Yutaka Niida. He is possibly “older” in terms of boxing age than a 27 year old but it's fair to suggest that he's not yet peaked and is in fact just getting better and better, still.
Although Gonzalez is similar, in a lot of ways, to Yaegashi's stablemate Naoya Inoue there are a lot of differences. Sparring with Inoue will have helped Yaegashi cope with the pressure though Gonzalez is naturally bigger than Inoue and more experienced, two things that will help neutralise the effectiveness of the sparring sessions between Yaegashi and “Monster” Inoue. At the end of the day however that sparring can't prevent Yaegashi from swelling when he takes numerous head shots and sadly we feel that will be his issue here.
Going into the fight we have a boxer with a warriors mentality and a pressure fighter who always brings the action. Unfortunately for Yaegashi the odds don't favour him, especially when we look at the way Gonzalez defeated Katsunari Takayama with intense pressure and heavy artillery that really took it's toll on “The Lightning Kid”. Yaegashi has never shown serious stamina issues but he's never been in the ring with someone as heavy handed or as capable as Gonzalez who always finds a way to cut the ring down and get to work with his thunderous shots on the inside.
Whilst we do favour Gonzalez to get the win here we do need to make fans aware of several things. Firstly Yaegashi has been talking to several former Gonzalez opponents. Amongst them are Takayama and Niida, who have both offered advice to Yaegashi on how Gonzalez goes about his work in the ring. It's obvious that advice will obviously be taken on board by Yaegashi it's hard to know just how much that advice will help him deal with the the man known as "El Chocolatito".
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
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.