The Minimumweight division over the last 20 months has been frustratingly quiet, with very, very little happening since the start of the Covid19 pandemic. It's been the among the most frustrating divisions in the sport with champions being pretty inactive and challengers also lacking in terms of activity, forcing the division to almost stand still at times.
We get the the WBC title and the IBF title have changed hands since the start of 2020 but since the start of 2020 we have only seen two IBF title fights a single WBC, WBA "super", WBO and WBA "Regular" title fight. That's at world level. We have also seen a lack of bouts at regional level, and even on the Japanese domestic scene.
Thankfully it seems like this could be set to change through what's left of 2021 and the division might finally begin to come alive once again.
Kicking off the potential revival of the Minimumweight division we'll see world title action this coming Tuesday as WBA "super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7) defends his title against fellow Thai Pongsaklek Sithdabnij (23-6-1, 13). This is a rare "Bloodline Battle", a world title bout between two Thais, and sadly it looks like a massive down grade from the last one, which incidentally saw Panya Pradabsri dethrone Wanheng Menayothin for the WBC title. Unlike that bout however, there will be significantly less international interest here, and very, very few will give the under-dog any kind of a chance. At all.
The unbeaten 31 year old champion, also known as Thammanoon Niyomtrong, has held some version of the WBA Minimumweight title since beating Carlos Buitrago in October 2014, for the "interim" title. Back that he was an exciting unbeaten hopeful stepping up his competition quickly, and looked like a breath of fresh air, with a unique fighting name. Since then he has claimed the WBA "regular" and "super" titles and become one of the few foundations for which the division has been built around, along with Wanheng. Sadly though he's also proven to be a very frustrating fighter to follow and someone who is lacking that extra gear, or may more exactly lacking the willingness to move into that top gear. In many ways he's of the same mentality, although different style, to Dmitry Bivol. It's clear he's talented but as long as he's winning he doesn't care about the style in which he wins.
Knockout is a talented fighter, he's a clean puncher, he's got solid defense, a good ring IQ and he knows his way around the ring. There is no denying his talent. This guy can box. Sadly though he's not very exciting. He lacks power, he lacks tenacity and work rate, and seems to also struggle with stamina. He keeps a predictable pace through much of the bout, coming alive early on, and controlling behind his under-rated foot and clean counter puncher. Earlier in his career he was much more exciting, but seems to have willingly tuned that down to fight safely, and to just defend his title, without creating any fuss or drama. In fact the most drama his recent bouts have had came from when ArAr Andales took the fight to him and we went to the scorecards early due to a cut. That fight aside there been no drama in a Knockout bout for years.
Again that's not to say the champion can't fight, he can. He's beaten Byron Rojas twice, Carlos Buitrago twice, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xiong Zhao Zhong. He's just not exciting.
Pongsaklek Sithdabnij, also known as Siridech Deebook, is a 29 year old fighter who really isn't too well known. In fact fans who don't follow boxing outside of Asia will almost certainly know nothing about him, other than that he has taken the fighting name of a former Flyweight great, And there's good reason for that. There's not too much to talk about when it comes to Pongsaklek, despite managing to turn his career around, massively, he's not really proven himself as being ready for a world title fight. In fact he's almost certainly getting this fight due to Covid19 restrictions regarding travel in and out of Thailand.
The challenger debuted in 2009 and began his career with 3 straight losses, and was 0-3-1 after 4 bouts. Following that stumble he managed to find his groove in 2015, including a major upset over the then 22-0 Kongfah Nakornluang, winning 11 in a row to get his career going. Since then things haven't been plain sailing however and he's gone 12-3, losing to Yudel Reyes, Kompayak Porpramook and Marco John Rementizo. Not exactly Murderers' Row. He has also struggled in other bouts, narrowly over-coming Kompayak in a rematch, limping past Romshane Sarguilla, and edging a bout with Seksan Khumdee. Again not exactly the competition of an upcoming world title challenger.
In the ring Pongsaklek is the type of fighter who looks like he's always doubting himself. He's not quick, sharp, powerful or particularly polished. He's young and hungry but lacks the tools to really dominate fights. Against Kompayak for example, he was lucky the former world champion was heading towards his 40's. He doesn't throw a lot unless he absolutely needs to, he doesn't look confident and he certainly doesn't have fight changing power. Notably he has fought at Flyweight in the past, and is going to be big at Minimumweight, but he's not shown himself to be someone who uses his size well. When he does get more aggressive, and to his credit he can dig deep and up his work rate, he looks very sloppy and doesn't have that clean, crisp quality to his punches that we want to see at world level. He's just, sadly, very average in pretty much every way.
Given what we've seen from both men we expect Knockout to start well, take control early and then simply out box Pongsaklek, who will look to move through the gears, but will be sloppy in his offense, will be left chasing Knockout a lot, and will be countered, tied up and hitting the air a lot in the second half of the bout.
Although this is a world title bout at 105lbs between two Thai's we're not expecting a great fight. We are expecting a bit of a sloppy, dull, clear decision for the champion, who needs a run out after more than a year of inactivity.
Prediction - UD12 Knockout CP Freshmart
(Note this preview was written for the bout's originally scheduled May date, and has had minor edits for the new October date, sadly however the reality is that the Minimumweight division has continued to be very, very quiet since May).
The Light Flyweigth division has long been slept on by fans of the sport, yet it has been consistently a great division giving us some amazingly legends since the division was created, such as Jung Koo Chang, Myung Woo Yuh and Yoko Gushiken to name just 3. In recent years, thankfully, the division has started to get more and more attention on the global stare and fighters like Hiroto Kyoguchi, Elwin Soto and Felix Alvarado have had world title defenses aired on DAZN as the division has started to get the international respect that it's long deserved.
Sadly whilst 3 current world champions at the weight have been aired on DAZN one hasn't, and that is WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji (18-0, 10). Arguably the best of the fighters at the weight. This coming Wednesday he looks to make his 9th defense of the title as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Masamichi Yabuki (12-3, 11) and continue his reign, which has already seen him over-come the likes of Pedro Guevara, Ganigan Lopez, Saul Juarez, Milan Melindo, Randy Petalcorin and Tatsuya Hisada. As for Yabuki this will be his chance to join the mix of the divisional elite, claim his first world title and prove that his power carries up beyond domestic level, where it has been a legitimate force of destruction.
Of the two fighters it's Kenshiro who is the more well and the clear, clear, favourite coming into the bout. The unbeaten champion, a second generation fighter following in the footsteps of his father Hisashi Teraji, turned professional with a little bit of fanfare and rapidly rose through the ranks, winning WBC Youth, OPBF and Japanese titles in his first 8 bouts. He then moved onto to the world stage, narrowly beating Ganigan Lopez for the title, and he struggled past Pedro Guevara in his first defense. Since then however he has looked near untouchable, out boxing very good fighters and creating a style based around his excellent jab, brilliant control of distance and under-rated body punching.
Although not the biggest puncher, or the the fighter with the highest work rate, Kenshiro does everything really well, except for the things he does brilliantly. There is no clear weakness with him. He's a solid puncher, who gets respect, he controls distance excellently, has fantastic ring IQ, uses angles, has solid footwork, and has a finishers mentality. He can be hit, but it's rare for a fighter to ever land more than one or two on him before he gets out of range, and he's someone who will take a lot of beating. Notable he has been down in his career, though those knockdowns were early on and he's shown a good chin since then. The one area where we do worry about him is when he's under intense pressure from a fighter with power and quick feet, though we're not sure how many fighters at 108lbs actually have the traits needed to put Kenshiro under that type of pressure.
Yabuki turned professional in 2016, and blasted out his first 3 opponents before facing Junto Nakatani in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, at Flyweight, where Nakatani took the power of Yabuki, and give him his first loss. Following that defeat Yabuki got back to blowing out opponents, 3 fighters before being stopped himself by Seigo Yuri Akui in 2018, and then losing against 5 months later to Cuban fighter Daniel Matellon. Since the loss to Matellon we've seen Yabuki going 5-0 (4), winning the Japanese national title in 2020, and defending it once. Whilst his competition hasn't been amazing, it has seen him beat the likes of Rikito Shiba, Tsuyoshi Sato and Toshimasa Ouchi.
Unlike many big punchers Yabuki isn't an out and out aggressive fighter. Instead he's a heavy handed boxer-puncher, who has under-rated boxing skills and incredibly heavy hands. He likes to use the ring, and let opponents come to him, using their aggression against them. If opponents make mistakes he likes to counter them, and using his straight punches from range to hurt them. When he has a fighter hurt however he does go for the kill, and doesn't like letting fighters off the hook. Whilst he is a solid boxer, it should be noted that Yabuki can be out boxed, and he can be lulled into inaction, as we saw at times when he faced Matellon, who landed when he wanted, and slowed the pace down when he wanted. It's really the way Matellon conducted himself in that fight that worries us for Yabuki backers, as Kenshiro also has the ability to back off and slow the tempo of the bout down.
Before we take a brief look at how we see this one going down there are some important things to note. Firstly, Kenshiro was diagnosed with Covid in August, and had a very swift recovery. That illness certainly won't have done him favours here, and it is a legitimate question mark hanging over his head. How well as has he recovered? What did that take out of him? What's his stamina like? Likewise this is a huge step up for Yabuki, and we do need to wonder whether or not he'll freeze on the big occasion.
If Kenshiro is 100% we really can't see him losing. Yabuki has the power to shake him, but we're not convinced he has the work rate, or footwork to follow up and take Kenshiro out, if he lands. If Kenshiro is damaged by his illness however, there is a chance that he might slow down late on, giving Yabuki a chance to land something and follow up.
Sadly for Yabuki we think the style of Kenshiro is really something he will struggle with. Yabuki simply doesn't have the speed or the tenacity to force his fight against someone with the IQ of Kenshiro. Yabuki will have moments, and will connect when Kenshiro makes mistakes and stays close for too long, but but those moments will be fleeting as he loses a wide, and clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Kenshiro Teraji
This coming weekend we get back to back nights with world title bouts in the Flyweight division. On Friday we'll see WBO champion Junto Nakatani defending his title against Angel Acosta and a night later it'll IBF champion Sunny Edwards (16-0, 4) defending against Filipino challenger Jayson Mama (16-0, 9), in what could be a huge weekend for the 112lb division. Of the two bouts the the Nakatani Vs Acosta is likely to be more explosive, however Edwards Vs Mama is likely to be a very, very interesting technical bout. Maybe not the most fun to watch as a casual, but a very interesting one all the same.
Of the two men involved in that IBF title bout it's the outspoken Edwards who is the more well known. He's a fighter who has enjoyed using social media, often to troll those that dislike him, but he's also backed up his words in the ring. The unbeaten 25 year old, who's brother Charlie Edwards is a former WBC champion, made his debut in 2016 and and gradually moved through the ranks by beating domestic and European competition. Earlier this year he proved how good he was with a fantastic performance to dethrone Moruti Mthlane with a clear decision win over the South African great. That win saw him net the IBF which he will be defending here.
In the ring Edwards is a pure boxer. He loves to use the whole ring, skirting around it when he needs to. He has fast feet, fast hands and uses his speed well. He sadly lacks power, and unlike most Flyweight he doesn't look for a fight, instead he looks to box, draw mistakes and make opponents pay for them. A genuine technician. Sadly for him his lack of power, and to some extend lack of out put, will likely be an issue against the top fighters in the division, such as Junto Nakatani, Julio Cesar Martinez and Ricardo Rafael Sandoval, but against the rest he likely has the boxing tools to take decisions over almost anyone else. Of course if a fighter can cut the ring off and make it into a fight then they have a real chance to get to him, break him down, take his legs away and take victory. But that's not an easy task, and Mthalane never came close to managing it in their bout.
Interestingly Mama was actually supposed to face Mthalane last year in South Africa, in a bout that was scrapped at the 11th hour after the authorities refused to let the bout take place on the grounds of the event not being covid safe. It was a huge hit for Mama's career, given he had travelled to South Africa at the time, and then he ended up seeing Edwards getting the chance he was supposed to have. With that in mind we are expecting the Filipino to be really up for this opportunity, which is a step up in class for him anyway.
The 24 year old "Smasher" made his debut in 2016 and like many Filipino's began his career against novices and very limited opponents, such as Bimbo Nacionales and Rodel Tejares. In 2019 he stepped up big time, and beat Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Kwanthai Sithmorseng, but like many fighters his momentum was stopped dead in 2020, not just due to the issues with the Mthalane fight but a general lack of activity. He managed to fight in February 2020 and wasn't in the ring again until April 2021, losing all his momentum.
In the ring Mama is a confident boxer, who comes forward, feels comfortable in his power, speed and skills, but looks very much a fighter who's not got that special something needed to win a world title. He's competent, he's skilled, he's relaxed in the ring, with decent speed, but there's nothing that really stands out about him. Sadly he lacks fight changing power, his footwork is very much deliberate and he relies a lot on upper body movement to avoid shots. Sadly for him, in regards to this bout, is not just his slow footwork, which will see him following and chasing Edwards, but also his low out put which will potentially see him struggling to make the most of any opportunities he does create.
Whilst we're not sure how Edwards would fair against the best in the division, such as the other champions, we really don't see how he loses here. We see him out boxing, out moving, out speeding, and out slicking Mama. Mama will have the odd moment here and there, but he'll struggle to tie down Edwards and have any sort of sustained success. In the end we're expecting a very wide decision win for Edwards.
Prediction - UD12 Edwards
On September 10th we'll see WBO Flyweight champion Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16) return to the ring for his first defense, as he takes on Puerto Rican puncher Angel Acosta (22-2, 21) in Tucson, Arizona. The bout will not just serve as Nakatani's first world title defense but will also be his international debut, coming on the same show as Oscar Valdez's bout with Robson Conceicao, and a huge chance for him to show the world exactly what he can do. The bout is a really interesting one, and one that could help Nakatani make a major statement in the sport, or could see Acosta become a 2-weight world champion, with Acosta having previously held the WBO Light Flyweight title.
For those who haven't seen these two men before, or maybe have little interest in watching the little guys unless they are on a card like this, it's worth taking a look at who the two men are, how they fight, and what sort of fighters they are.
Stood at 5'7", and aged just 23, Nakatani is a long, rangy, tall Flyweight. In fact he's among the tallest and longest fighters in the division right now and he certainly has the frame to allow him to move up through the weights. In fact it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fighting as a Featherweight when he matures. He's a youngster who has come through the tough Japanese domestic scene, winning Rookie of the Year in 2016, beating the now world ranked Masamichi Yabuki in the final, before going on to beat the likes of Seigo Yuri Akui, Dexter Alimento and Shun Kosaka before winning the Japanese national title in 2019. Following his title win he has gone on to some solid fighters, including Milan Melindo and Giemel Magramo, who he stopped for the title last November.
Given his physical dimensions it should be no surprise to learn that Nakatani has an excellent jab, and his ability to box and move is fantastic. He mas managed to use his jab as a dominant tool in the past and he really took Milan Melindo apart with it. It's a table setter for him, along with a razor guided straight right hand, and with his good footwork it's a punch that can really control the range and tempo of a bout. Unlike many tall fighters however Nakatani isn't afraid of fighting on the inside when he needs to and has proven to be a fantastic up close, with his body shots in particular being deadly. We suspect he'll have to show that side of his boxing here, but will bee putting himself in harms way to do so. Defensively there is work to be done for Nakatani, but he's certainly not the easiest of guys to hit clean, especially not at range and when he has been tagged he's not looked particularly phased or troubled by anything. And that included going to war with Akui, a huge puncher.
Aged 30 Acosta is a veteran of the sport, and was a notable amateur before turning professional in 2012. Due to his amateur pedigree he was moved into 6 rounders early on, though he rarely needed rounds and stopped his first 16 opponents, including notable fighters like Luis Ceja, Victor Ruiz and Japhet Uutoni, who he beat in a world title eliminator. His winning run came to an end in 2017 when he clashed with Kosei Tanaka, who took a well earned decision over Acosta in a very good fight for the WBO Light Flyweight title. Despite losing to Tanaka we saw Acosta get a second shot at the title when Tanaka moved up to Flyweight and he took that chance, stopping Juan Alejo on the under-card of Miguel Cotto Vs Sadam Ali, and he went on to defend it 3 times, including bouts on DAZN, before losing in controversial fashion to Elwin Soto in 2019. There had been talks of a rematch but Acosta decided to move up in weight and quickly became the mandatory for the WBO Flyweight title, though sadly due to the Covid situation he was forced to wait for his shot, which comes here against Nakatani.
In the ring Acosta is is a heavy handed and aggressive fighter who's busy in the ring, throws plenty of leather but does so with intelligence. He's not a wild, reckless fighter but an intelligent and smart puncher. He mixes his shots up well, he throws solid combinations and is light on his feet. Although his record suggests he's a brutal puncher he isn't. He is however a very solid puncher, who lands a lot and breaks opponents down, and has fantastic finishing instincts. In recent bouts he has started to get more rounds than he did earlier in his career, and can certainly go rounds without any issues, which is always something that's important for a puncher. Notably he's not the hardest man to hit, and he does get sloppy when letting combinations go, but he has the power to make opponents think twice and not take too many risks against him.
We expect this to be a tense bout early on. Nakatani will want to feel out Acosta, see how hard he really hits, and whether Acosta's power really carries up to Flyweight. He'll also want to get the feel for fighting in front of an American crowd. For the first few rounds we expect to see Nakatani playing very safe, using his reach and heigh, and letting Acosta chase him, and do the heavy lifting. As the bout goes on and as Nakatani begins to feel more comfortable we expect this to grow into an inside battle, with the two men taking turns to let shots go up close. When that happens the natural size and youthfulness of Nakatani will begin to dominate and he will begin to grind down the challenger.
We suspect Acosta will give a great account, but will end up being stopped in the later rounds as the pressure and work rate of Nakatani gets too much, and he beats the fight out of the Puerto Rican.
Prediction - TKO10 Nakatani
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.