By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
The most anticipated fight in the Japanese boxing scene takes place on November 7th at the Saitama Super Arena, as Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire finally meet in the finals of the Bantamweight WBSS Tournament, for the WBA (Super), IBF & The Ring World championships as well as the prestigious Ali Trophy.
Naoya Inoue (18-0 / 16 KOs) is considered to be one of the best boxers that have come out of the land of the rising sun. His power, agility and precision have brought him immense success, while he is already ranked in the top 5 (P4P) list by The Ring, ESPN, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and others.
Before becoming a pro, he had a relatively short but rather accomplished amateur career, amassing 75 victories in 81 outings, with 48 of them being stoppages. Naoya won numerous (inter) high school tournaments, earned the gold at the 2011 Indonesia Presidential Cup and became the All Japan Light Flyweight champion, the same year. He also placed high at the Asian & World championships.
In 2012, the Monster finally made his pro debut and quickly made himself a guy to look out for. After going 3-0, in less than a year, he was set to face Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4) for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Taguchi, at 18-1, not only was he the more experienced of the two, but he was also a world ranked fighter. Inoue displayed much aggressiveness, taking control of the fight from the opening round. We saw a lot of his body work at display, which became a signature strategy as his career progressed. After 10 rounds of action, the youngster took a clear unanimous decision win (one of only the two times a fight of his has gone the distance) and the belt. Taguchi eventually went on to become the WBA, IBF & The Ring Light Flyweight World champion.
Just 4 months later, he fought Jerson Mancio (18-6) for the vacant OPBF Light Flyweight title. Naoya’s offense was too fast for the Filipino. He weakened his opponent with body shots, before the referee was forced to stop the fight in the 5th as Mancio was getting repeatedly tagged.
It wasn’t long after that Inoue received his first world title shot against Adrian Hernandez (30-5) on April of 2014. The 2 time WBC Light Flyweight World champion had marked 4 successful title defenses coming into this one. Both strong body punchers, Hernandez seemed to be gaining ground in the 4th round but Naoya quickly bounced back with some heavy shots of his own. It was an even match until the 6th when the Japanese Monster dropped El Confesor with a lighting fast right hook, who despite getting up, refused to continue. As a result, Inoue was declared the World champion at 21 years of age, in only his 6th professional bout.
Inoue defended the WBC title only once against Wittawas Basapean (34-11), before moving 2 weight classes up and within the same year, he challenged Omar Andres Narvaez (49-3) for the WBO Super Flyweight World championship. Narvaez, a 1999 Pan American Games winner, enjoyed a 7 year reign with the WBO Flyweight World title (16 defenses) prior to winning the Super Flyweight strap, which he had held for 4 years at the time (11 defenses). This was meant to be the Japanese fighter’s toughest test yet. Instead, it turned out to be one of his most dominant performances, as he dropped the veteran 4 times in just 2 rounds, sealing the deal with the liver shot, to become a 2 division World champion. That was the sole KO loss in Narvaez’s career.
The Monster remained champion for 3.5 years, reaching an impressive number of 7 title defenses. Warlito Parrenas (26-10), Karoon Jarupianlerd (44-9), Ricardo Rodriguez (16-7) and Antonio Nieves (19-2) were easy work for him, as neither of them were close to his level. David Carmona (21-6) did better, simply because Naoya injured his right hand during the match. Still, he managed to outclass his opponent, even put him down in the last round, earning his second and last decision victory. Yoan Boyeaux (41-6), another promising challenger, was on a 31 fight winning streak (close to 5 years unbeaten) and with 26 KOs under his belt. This also ended up being a one sided beatdown, with Inoue scoring 4 knockdowns in less than 8 minutes.
His best challenge was against the 2 time WBA Super Flyweight World champion Kohei Kono (33-12) on December of 2016. Kono came out strong in the beginning, connecting with some good punches, surprising Inoue for a while. Before you know it, this was turned into a wild brawl with both men bringing the heat and exciting the fans. All that changed in the 6th when Naoya landed a perfect left hook that floored the former champ and proceeded to finish him off a couple of seconds later, putting an end to this thrilling encounter.
In 2018, Inoue decided to enter the Bantamweight ranks and immediately challenged the WBA (Regular) title holder Jamie McDonnell (30-3). The Yorkshire native hadn’t suffered a single loss in a decade (22 fights). A former British, Commonwealth, European & IBF Bantamweight World champion, McDonnell was his best opponent since Narvaez. The Monster, true to his nickname, overwhelmed the champ with powerful shots, dropping him in the very 1st round. McDonnell managed to stand up again, but found himself trapped against the ropes as Naoya delivered a lethal flurry to get the KO.
After the fight, the Japanese superstar announced his participation at the WBSS and in October of last year, he was matched against the former WBA (Super) World champion Juan Carlos Payano (21-3). In what was voted as one of the best knockouts of 2018 (#1 by The Ring Magazine), Inoue nailed him with a straight right and put his lights out, 70 seconds into the fight.
He proceeded to ruin Emmanuel Rodriguez’s (19-1) perfect record, by knocking him down thrice in the 2nd round, securing the IBF World championship in the process. McDonnell, Payano and Rodriguez had never been stopped before in their entire career.
Naoya is finally a step away from fulfilling his destiny and winning the Ali Trophy, but in order to accomplish that, he has to go through one of the most successful fighters that has come out of the Philippines.
Nonito Donaire (40-5 / 26 KOs) has been a boxer for over 20 years. Beginning his amateur career back in the 90s, the Filipino had won 3 U.S. national championships, as well as the 1999 International Junior Olympics gold medal. His record stood at 68 wins and only 8 losses.
As a pro, he went 17-1 before challenging Vic Darchinyan (43-9) in 2007, for the IBF Flyweight World title. The Armenian was 28-0 at the time and had been the reigning champion since 2004, boasting 6 successful title defenses. Donaire established his dominance from the opening round, with the left punch being the difference maker. He kept hitting hard, giving Darchinyan the biggest test of his career. As he was trying to close the distance, Nonito connected with a thunderous counter left, right in the jaw, ending the champ’s undefeated reign. Donaire, not only captured the World title for the 1st time, but also the “Knockout of the year” and “Upset of the year” awards from The Ring Magazine.
The Filipino Flash defended his belt 3 times, against Luis Maldonado (36-15), in what was an one sided beatdown, Moruti Mthalane (38-2), due to a cut, and the then unbeaten Raul Martinez (30-4), who he dropped thrice. In all of his matches, Donaire had showcased incredible speed and timing, especially with his left hooks & uppercuts and of course his counter shots, which all have been proven to be his favourite weapons, even to this day.
His second reign began in 2009 when he won the interim WBA Super Flyweight title, after a hard hitting battle with the former champion Rafael Concepcion (18-8) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas. Nonito then made short work of Manuel Vargas (32-11) who seemed to be out of his depth. In the 3rd round, he was almost dancing around the former interim WBO Strawweight champion, while throwing punches, before finishing him off with a left uppercut. He also defended against Hernan Marquez (43-10) where once again, the left uppercut sealed the deal.
Donaire made his Bantamweight debut against Olympic Bronze medalist and former WBA (Regular) champion Volodymyr Sydorenko (22-3) back in 2010 and looked better than ever. He scored a knockdown in the 1st, courtesy of a right cross. Another one in the 3rd with a left hook and dropped him for the final time in the 4th with a right straight. By the end, Sydorenko’s face was a bloody mess, full of bruises after the all the punishment he had to endure. That was his only stoppage loss and last fight as well.
On February 19 of 2011, Nonito challenged 3 division World champion Fernando Montiel (54-6) for the WBC & WBO Bantamweight titles. Going into this one, both men were ranked amongst the top 10 boxers in the world. The Filipino Flash threw one of the best punches of his career, as he connected with a counter left in the 2nd round, dropping Cochulito hard to the canvas. Even though he got back up, he was clearly out on his feet and after 2 more shots, the referee stopped the fight.
His inaugural defense of the belts was against the aforementioned Omar Andres Narvaez (49-3) who was coming into this match with a perfect 35-0 record. Not the most exciting performance from Donaire, but he still managed to outbox the 2 division World champion and win a wide unanimous decision.
Moving up again a weight class, and in February of 2012, he fought the former WBO Super Bantamweight World champion Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (25-7) for the same vacant title. It was a rather close contest, during which Vasquez was dropped for the very first time of his career. When the final bell rang, Donaire was crowned a 4 division king.
Riding all that momentum, his next goal was to become the undisputed champion at Super Bantamweight. He first unified with the IBF champion Jeffrey Mathebula (27-5) in July of the same year. A much more impressive showing than his last 2 outings.
Next on the list was the WBC champion Toshiaki Nishioka (39-5). The WBC Diamond, The Ring and the lineal titles were also on the line. Nishioka played a defensive game, offering no significant offense of his own. Donaire utilized his patented left uppercut to score a knockdown in the 6th, but hurt his hand in the process, forcing him to rely only on his right for the rest of the match. The Japanese fighter finally put together some good combinations in the 9th, trapping Nonito against the ropes, but still got dropped with a counter straight right and shortly after the fight was stopped.
In what was basically an exhibition of his speed and power, Donaire defended his belts against fellow 4 division World champion Jorge Arce (64-8) in December, scoring 3 knockdowns and retiring another fighter once more.
His first loss in 12 years came on April of 2013, as he failed in his final unification fight with the WBA (Super) champion & 2 time Olympic Gold medallist Guillermo Rigondeaux (19-1). He still managed though to land a left hook in the 9th round, putting the Olympian down but not out.
The Filipino Flash bounced back with another stoppage victory over now 2 division champion Vic Darchinyan, before graduating to Featherweight and facing Simpiwe Vetyeka (30-4) for the WBA (Super) title. To no one’s surprise, the left hook did the trick again in the 4th, before the fight abruptly ended a round later, due to an accidental head clash. His reign however was short lived, as he lost the championship to Nicholas Walters (26-1) only 5 months later. Despite a strong start, Walters proved to be a much tougher opponent than expected, ending Donaire’s sole Featherweight title run, giving him the 1st (and thus far only) KO loss of his illustrious career.
In 2015, Nonito decided to return to Super Bantamweight and convincingly defeated William Prado (22-5), Anthony Settoul (24-8) and Cesar Juarez (24-7) in a fight of the year candidate, becoming the WBO champion for the 2nd time. He only defended the title once, against Zsolt Bedak (25-2), before losing it to the then undefeated Jessie Magdaleno (27-1).
He tried his luck at Featherweight one last time but, besides one minor victory, he came up short against Carl Frampton (26-2) when they met for the interim WBO championship in 2018. Even though he did throw the best punches and seemingly did more damage than his opponent, Frampton played a smart game, not engaging in any big exchanges, while scoring points which in the end earned him the strap.
Most recently, Donaire moved back to Bantamweight, in order to participate in the WBSS. In the opening round of the tournament, he clashed with the then undefeated WBA (Super) World champion Ryan Burnett (20-1). That was the Filipino’s first Bantamweight match since 2011. An injury, which seemed to have been caused from one of Donaire’s left punches to the body, rendered Burnett unable to continue, thus declaring him the new champion. Then earlier this year, the scheduled double title bout, with the WBO champion Zolani Tete (28-3), was cancelled, due to Tete suffering a shoulder injury. Instead, Nonito defended against last minute replacement Stephon Young (18-2), who he knocked out with a decapitating left hook. Now Donaire has the chance to once again be recognised as one of the best boxers in the world today, by winning his final fight this coming Thursday night in Japan. But this task is easier said than done.
It’s easy to be amazed by the careers of these men. Both have been in the ring with some of the best boxers from all over the world and have gathered countless championships. However this fight might be their most significant one yet. Their paths share many similarities but at the same time are completely opposite. For Inoue, it’s a chance to become a global star. For Donaire, it could very well be his last hurrah. After 20 years into the sport, the Filipino Flash has won world titles in 5 different weight classes. The experience factor is definitely on his side. Unfortunately, that also means that he’s not a young fighter anymore. His speed and stamina are no longer what they used to.
On the other hand, Inoue is at his prime. An unstoppable force that has rained havoc in every one of his opponents, with none of them being able to even score a single knockdown against him. Power, agility, precision, timing. Four attributes that once were used to describe Donaire. As that wasn’t enough, the Monster has looked even more spectacular in this division than in any other one he has been in. His entire Bantamweight run has been a total of 7 minutes and 21 seconds. That’s how long it took him to knockout 3 world champions. Whereas Donaire’s latest Bantamweight run can be described with only one word: Luck ! Burnett’s injury and Tete having to pull out of the tournament are the key reasons why he has made it to the finals. Still, this doesn’t mean he isn’t a dangerous opponent. His power is still here. His timing is still here. Inoue has to be careful of Donaire’s left hand and counter strikes, at all times. But, in the end of the day, the Japanese Monster seems to be in a completely different level from everyone else. For all of his achievements and accomplishments, make no mistake that, Donaire is coming in as the underdog.
So the final question is this: will Inoue demolish another world champion on his way to superstardom or can Donaire’s experience and luck bring him the big win one last time ? We will find out on November 7th, when these 2 warriors clash in Saitama !
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 7th, at the Saitama Super Arena, the undefeated Takuma Inoue and Nordine Oubaali clash for the unified WBC Bantamweight World championship.
Takuma Inoue (13-0 / 3 KOs) is the younger brother of Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue. He took up boxing at a very young age, after watching his sibling compete. During his amateur days, he won several tournaments, including the National Sports Festival in 2011, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event. Takuma also placed second the following year, losing only to future 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka. His record stood at 52-5.
Showing much promise as an amateur, Takuma made his pro debut in 2013, when he was barely 18 years old. His first opponent was future WBO World Champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-7). Even though he was outmatched, Inoue managed to pull off the upset and get the unanimous decision over the much more experienced boxer.
The Japanese rising star’s sound skills and technique brought him victory once again over another worthy foe in Teeraphong Utaida (38-7). After knocking out a debuting Chalerm Kotala, Inoue outclassed world title challenger Nestor Daniel Narvaes (20-3), in just his fourth bout.
Takuma would fight Mark Anthony Geraldo (38-9) in 2015, to capture the vacant OPBF title and also to make 2 successful defenses. He then met Filipino standout Froilan Saludar (31-3) at the Sky Arena in Japan, where despite getting dropped early in the first, he returned the favor in the later rounds.
Missing an entire year due to a hand injury, Inoue made his return on August of 2017, in an epic war with 4 time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka (26-18). Both men went back and forth for 10 rounds, exchanging shots and stealing the show. Takuma remained unbeaten and proved that he was back and stronger than ever. Since then, he has defeated Kentaro Masuda (27-9), Waldo Sabu (13-14) and John Yap (30-14).
Finally, on December of last year, Takuma fought Tasana Salapat (52-1) for the interim WBC Bantamweight World title. Undefeated at the time and with 37 KOs under his belt, the Thai knockout artist couldn’t figure out a way to take his opponent out this time. The Japanese fighter used his speed and put together some excellent combinations to dominate the match, even hurting Salapat on a few occasions in the later rounds, after landing some crisp right hooks and straights. When the final bell rang, Takuma was the clear and decisive winner. He now has the chance to become the unified WBC champion, in his home country, but his next fight won’t be an easy one.
Nordine Oubaali (16-0) spent almost a decade competing in amateur boxing, gaining experience and honing his craft. He participated in 2 Olympics (2008 & 2012) and also won bronze at the World & European Union championships.
The Frenchman finally turned pro in 2014, winning 10 bouts in the span of 2 years, 7 of them via (T)KO. He then squared off with Julio Cesar Miranda (42-14), on December of 2016, for the WBA Intercontinental title. Oubaali overwhelmed the former World champion with a plethora of punches, scoring 3 knockdowns in the process.
Half a year later, he fought former interim WBO titlist Alejandro Hernandez (31-13), with the WBC Silver crown on the line. Oubaali was in complete control throughout the entire time. He dropped Hernandez thrice, once in the 1st after landing 3 back to back straight lefts, then in the 3rd with a thunderous right hook and again in the 8th. The referee finally stopped the contest in the 10th due to a nasty cut over Alejandro’s left eye.
After delivering a stunning knockout over Mark Anthony Geraldo (38-9) and easily dispatching world title challenger Luis Melendez (47-13) in just 2 rounds, Oubaali eventually earned a shot at the big one.
This past January, he took the former WBA (Super) champion Rau'shee Warren (16-3) the distance, to claim the vacant WBC Bantamweight World title for his own. It was an even fight at the beginning. Oubaali started taking over as we reached round 7, throwing more punches than his opponent, as well as the more significant ones. That was the first time in 3 years that a fight of his had gone to the judges’ scorecards. His inaugural title defense was a one sided affair against Arthur Villanueva (32-4), whom he knocked down 2 times, before retiring on his stool. The Frenchman will now travel to Japan in order to unify the WBC titles.
Both men’s pro careers began with only a few months difference from each other, and in that relatively short time, they already have become champions. It’s easy to spot the similarities as well as the differences between the two. They both share a successful amateur background, but undoubtedly, Oubaali has had the better run. Experience is definitely on his side, with approximately 15 years into the sport. On the other hand though, Takuma is way younger than him, a decade younger to be exact, which makes him the fresher and faster athlete. Both have been in the ring with accomplished opponents, although the level of competition might be slightly higher in Oubaali’s case. Moreover, Takuma, even though he’s a crafty fighter, he lacks the knockout power his brother possesses, whereas Oubaali has a 75% KO ratio and is known for scoring multiple knockdowns in his matches, preferably with the left, which has put away most of his former rivals. To sum this up, for all of his impressive performances in the past, Inoue has never faced a boxer, the caliber of Oubaali. He’s outmatched and outgunned. But that has been pretty much the story of his entire career. So can Takuma survive the “French invasion”? We are about to find out.
On November 2nd IBF Super Flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (31-1-2, 21) will make his 8th defense of the title, as he takes on Mexican challenger Jonathan Javier Rodriguez (21-1, 15). On paper this looks like an interesting bout, but given the depth and names at Super Flyweight there is certainly a feeling that this is another underwhelming challenger for the Filipino "Pretty Boy".
Just over 2 years ago Ancajas looked like he was set to be a star when he dominated Teiru Kinoshita on the Manny Pacquiao Vs Jeff Horn under-card, but has rarely shown the same qualities and excitement as he did that night, and instead of being a star his reign has been hugely frustrating and lacking in terms of quality. Whilst he has made 3 mandatory defenses, including the win over Kinoshita, he hasn't made the most of his voluntary opportunities and has lost a lot of the moment it seemed he once had.
In the ring the champion is a wonderfully smooth boxer-puncher. He has brilliant technical ability, sharp punching, great movement, and whilst he's not a puncher he hits clean accurate shots that take a toll on opponents. There's not many fighters who match up to Ancajas in terms of being a joy to watch with his speed and crispness. Sadly though his competition has been the issue and wins against the likes of Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, Jamie Conlan, Israel Gonzalez and a draw against Alejandro Santiago Barrios, in voluntary defenses have done little for his reputation. Whilst mandatories against Kinoshita, Jonas Sultan and Ryuichi Funai have been very nice stylistic matches, he hasn't managed to build his standing on those wins.
On paper the 24 year old Rodriguez is a really good challenger. He is coming into his prime, has suffered just a single loss, recently beat the well regarded Felipe Orucuta and is heavy handed. Below the paper however we see a man who was beaten by a relative novice just 20 months ago, holds only a single win of note and hasn't really got a name reputation. In a division where there is a lot of contenders looking for a shot, he has done little to deserve one. He has done less to get his shot than the likes of Donnie Nietes, Andrew Moloney, Francisco Rodriguez Jr or Carlos Cuadras, or a rematch with Alejandro Santiago Barrios. It's hard to defend Rodriguez, despite his nice looking record.
Despite Rodriguez having little of what quality on his record there are things to like about how he fights. He looks strong and tough, he's aggressive and he comes forward with power in his shots. Sadly there's more to dislike about how he fights, he looks slow and clunky, a bit methodical, he drops his hands and he looks like he's there to be hit. He trudges forward, fails to really cut the ring off and although he can clearly punch he does leave himself open when he lets his shots go.
Watching Rodriguez what we appear to have is another show-case type opponent for Ancajas who should have a field day with the Mexican. From what we've seen of the challenger the interesting thing will not be the competitiveness, or rather uncompetitiveness, of the fight but more a question of just how much punishment Rodriguez is happy to take. He looks like he will be way out of his depth.
Prediction - TKO8 Ancajas
It's fair to state the Minimumweight division hasn't had a great year in 2019. We've seen only 3 successful defenses so far this year, and whilst it has 2 new champions neither has yet to make a defense of their title. There has been activity in the division, and even one or two fantastic bouts, but on the whole it's really been a poor and unremarkable year for the division. And that's coming from us, and we are huge fans of the little guys!
Thankfully it does look like we could get a really exciting match up before the year is over as WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (53-0, 13) defends his belt against South African challenger Simpiwe Konkco (19-5-0-1, 7) on October 25th. This bout, a mandatory for Wanheng, will be the Thai's 12th defense of the title he won almost 5 years ago. On the other hand it will be Koncko's second bout for a major title, though he has previously held the IBO belt twice.
At 33 years old the champion is old for a Minimumweight, but is still younger than some of the challengers around like Norihito Tanaka and Shin Ono, who are both in their mid 30's and Gabriel Mendoza, who is set to challenge for a world title at the age of 40. What's more impressive than Wanheng's age is his ring years. He has a been a professional for almost 13 years, has 53 bouts behind him and 425 professional rounds. For a fighter to have a 53 fight unbeaten run is rare, though has been done in the past, but for a world champion in today's era to have over 400 rounds, over 50 bouts and remain in 1 weight class is genuinely impressive. The dedication to fight at the same weight through his entire career has to be applauded.
Sadly what can't be applauded is Wanheng's competition. There are a number of solid wins on his record, such as victories over Florante Condes, Oswaldo Novoa, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Saul Juarez, Pedro Taduran and Melvin Jerusalem, but for a man with over 50 wins that's an unimpressive line up.
In the ring Wanheng is incredibly talented. He's a smart fighter who applies pressure behind a tight guard, with good, clever footwork, he presses well, and defends well. When up close he lets his combinations fly, and his body shots are really eye catching. Whilst he does do somethings really well he does lack power, he's not the quickest, or the busiest and he has had some luck with judges in the past. He's a hard man to beat, but certainly not unbeatable, and we suspect the best way to beat him is to out work him, keep him behind his tight guard and get away before he gets close enough to set off his own combinations. It's something we've seen tried, and something that has really shown flaws in Wanheng's style, but the Thai has always done enough to get the nod from the judges.
On paper Koncko doesn't look like a qualified challenger, he's already lost 5 of his 24 bouts and has been stopped in 3 losses. What that doesn't tell you is anything in regards to context, with Koncko going 6-4 to begin his career before rolling off a 13-1-0-1 stretch over the last few years. That stretch of success has seen him lose on to Hekkie Budler, in a very competitive all-South African bout, whilst notching wins against the likes of Zukisani Kwayiba, Siyabonga Siyo, Nkosinathi Joyi, Lito Dante and Toto Landero. Maybe not murderer's row but still solid wins, and wins that show how misleading his record is.
In the ring Koncko is a very tough guy, the early KO losses shouldn't be seen a sign of a poor chin, but more inexperience at the time. What he's become is a smart fighter, able to counter well, set a high pace when he needs to and hit with much more power than his record suggests. He's notable a patient fighter, looking for the right time to strike, but when he gets on the front foot he is a solid guy, with a hard right hand. He gauges distance well and does find gaps will alarming frequency. Sadly though his work rate isn't as high or as consistent as we'd think it'd need to be to beat Wanheng in Thailand.
Stylistically this should be interesting, with Koncko being a skilled boxer who can hold his own with Wanheng on a technical level. The difference though is that Koncko is unlikely to be getting a decision in Thailand, against the ever hostile Thai conditions. He doesn't fight at a high enough pace to make Wanheng uncomfortable, nor does he appear to have the 1-punch power to hurt the Thai. Wanheng will almost certainly rack up the rounds, buoyed on by local fans and take a clear, but hard fought decision in a technically high level bout.
This may not be the most fun to watch, but it has the ingredients to be a very interesting contest.
Prediction UD12 Wanheng
Over the last few years the Light Flyweight division has been one of the few divisions which has given us thriller, after thriller, after thriller. The division has so much talent, and has had for years, that the world title bouts we're seeing there have been, for the most part, well matched, exciting and thoroughly entertaining.
This coming Thursday we're expecting another interesting bout in the division as WBO champion Elwin Soto (15-1, 11) defends his belt against unbeaten Filipino challenger Edward Heno (14-0-5, 5). On paper this looks like a delicious match up between hard hitting champion and skilled unbeaten challenger, but how do we expect it to go? And who are Elwin Soto and Edward Heno?
The champion is a 22 year old who really was an unknown until earlier this year, when he upset Angel Acosta for the title. The win over Acosta was a genuine upset, and was also a rather controversial one with the referee jumping in very quickly when Acosta was hurt. The stoppage was one of the worst of the year, and Acosta was furious about it, though the referee's decision can't be held against Soto. Sadly that is one of only 2 notable wins for Soto, who also beaten former IBF Minimumweight champion Mario Rodriguez in 2018. Whilst his competition hasn't been great Soto has shown enough to be very excited about. He's a very hard hitting fighter, who appears to take a shot very well himself, having never been down as a professional. His body punching is excellent and he has power late in the bout with some lovely combinations.
Dubbed "La Pulga" Soto is one of the hidden gems of the Light Flyweight division, and although he has a lot of question still to answer, such as questions over his stamina and his defense, he looks like a brilliant young fighter with a bright future ahead. The one thing that did show up against Acosta was that Soto slowed down a lot in the later rounds, and he got caught a lot but never looked hurt and showed great composure throughout.
Whilst Soto seemingly came out of nowhere to become a world champion Heno has been on the fringes for a couple of years now. He made his debut in 2011, and drew his first 3 bouts, but has really come into his own since 2017. He took the unbeaten record of countryman Cris Ganoza in March 2017, went over to Japan and was robbed of a win over Seita Ogido, before stopping to become the OPBF champion. Since winning the OPBF title Ogido has made 3 defenses, beating former world champion Melito Sabillo, the once touted Jesse Espinas and Japanese veteran Koji Itagaki. Sadly footage of Heno is scarce, despite having a number of bouts streamed at the time, however he is a talented, and smart fighter with a good jab and a intelligent defense. Sadly his lack of power is an issue, especially at world level, however he has the skills to be a nightmare.
Heno is a real natural boxing talent however his lack of power against a bully like Soto could be an issue. Soto won't respect him early on, and could put the Filipino under a lot of early pressure. We suspect Heno will see out the early storm against Soto, but the middle rounds will be incredibly tough for the challenger. If he can survive that then he has the experience over 12 rounds to fight strong down the stretch. It is however, a big ask for Heno to survive those middle rounds.
We'd love to see Heno win, but in reality we think he's up against one of the sports true hidden gems here and this is a huge ask for him. He'll give it a go, but the pressure and power of Soto will be too much.
Prediction TKO8 Soto
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
A major boxing clash takes place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 18th, as Artur Beterbiev and Oleksandr Gvozdyk put their respective IBF & WBC Light Heavyweight titles on the line, in what it’s guaranteed to be a fight of the year candidate.
Artur Beterbiev (14-0 / 14 KOs) began his career as an amateur, winning the World championship and World Cup once each, as well as the Europeans twice, subsequently earning the honorary title of “National Master of Sports”. During those years, he held victories over future Olympic medalists, such as Egor Mekhontsev (gold), Kenny Egan (silver), Abbos Atoev (bronze) and future pro world champions like Sergey Kovalev & Yuniel Dorticos.
He finally made his pro debut in 2013, quickly amassing 5 consecutive stoppages, before facing his first legit opponent in Tavoris Cloud (24-3). Beterbiev dropped the former IBF World champion thrice in the opening round and put him down for the final time in the 2nd after landing a short left hook to the chin, thus becoming the first man to knockout Cloud, in what turned out to be the last match of his career.
Beterbiev proceeded to defend his NABO title against Jeff Page (18-3) and also win the IBF North American championship. Despite suffering an early knockdown, he returned the favor two times, while finishing the job once again with the left hook. This was Page’s first ever loss.
Continuing his path of destruction in 2015-2016, he outboxed the former WBA World champion Gabriel Campillo (25-8) and KOed him with a powerful straight right, in only 4 rounds. After that, he added Alexander Johnson (17-4), Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna (26-6), Isidro Ranoni Prieto (27-3) to his victim’s list and the WBO International title to his collection.
His big moment came in November of 2017, when he met the 2 time WBA Intercontinental champion Enrico Koelling (26-3) for the vacant IBF title. Beterbiev was clearly the superior boxer, being way ahead in points, as Koelling barely offered any significant offense of his own. It was the one and only time a fight of his went 12 rounds, but he still didn’t need the judges, since he scored 2 knockdowns in the closing moments, causing the referee to stop the fight and crown him the new IBF Light Heavyweight champion of the world.
The Russian marked his inaugural title defense last October against the then undefeated British & Commonwealth champion Callum Johnson (18-1). These 2 bruisers engaged in an incredible brawl, trading big shots as well as knockdowns, much to the excitement of the fans in attendance. However, Callum made the mistake of closing the distance, which is where Beterbiev excels at the most, thus taking two rapid blows to the chin and to the temple, putting an end to the Englishman’s world championship aspirations.
Dispatching mandatory challenger Radivoje Kalajdzic (24-2) with relative ease, earlier this year, Beterbiev now looks to cement his legacy by fighting a fellow unstoppable fighter and become a double world champion. But the road to glory passes through a rather tough rival.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0), much like Beterbiev, used to compete in the amateurs, where he won the European Cup and most importantly the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. His reported record was 225-30.
In his 10th match as a pro, he dropped Nadjib Mohammedi (42-8) with a lighting fast right cross during the 2nd round. The Ukrainian defeated 2 more world title challengers in Tommy Karpency (29-7) and Isaac Chilemba (25-7) on the same year.
In 2018, Gvozdyk bested former European champion Mehdi Amar (35-6) for the right to face the WBC & Lineal World champion Adonis Stevenson (29-2), who at the time, was undefeated for 7 years and with 24 KOs under his belt. Gvozdyk scored an early knockdown in the 3rd after landing a clean straight right, but the referee called it a slip for some reason. He survived Stevenson’s superman punch in the 10th and hurt the champ before the round ended. The finish came at the 11th, after a plethora of strikes, finally stopping Adonis with a right straight to the chin, ending the reign of one of the best Light Heavyweights in history.
Unfortunately, Gvozdyk’s 1st defense wasn’t as impressive, since Doudou Ngumbu (38-10) suffered a calf injury during the 5th round, which led to the referee stoppage. Up untl that point, the champion was in control from the opening bell, putting together some slick combinations and his jab to good use. Now, almost a year away from the biggest fight of his career, he gets the opportunity to make the headlines once again, by gunning for a second world title.
It’s always intriguing to see 2 undefeated champions fight each other, but at the same time, it’s tough to pick a winner, since neither man has ever tasted defeat before. Gvozdyk is a much more technical boxer, buying his time and wearing his opponents down before going in for the kill, which most times comes in the form of a straight right. Beterbiev’s style on the other hand is far more aggressive. You can understand that, by simply looking at his record. Only 3 of his fights have gone past the 4th round. What’s also impressive about him is that he can muster a lot of energy behind his short range punches, even when his foe has him clinched. However, the most important statistic about Beterbiev might be this: 100% finishing ratio ! Not a single man that has stepped into the ring with him has managed to go the distance. It won’t be a surprise if he is the one to hand Gvozdyk his 1st loss as a pro. However, if Gvozdyk can survive the early onslaught, he might have a shot at outpointing the Russian. So who walks away the unified WBC/IBF Light Heavyweight World champion??? We will find out this coming Friday in Philly!
The Light Heavyweight division is one with a lot of interesting match ups that could be made, and a very interesting title picture. Sadly though we do, even with the talent in the division, get the occasional bout that doesn't really appeal. On October 12th we get one such bout as WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11) takes on the unheralded Lenin Castillo (20-2-1, 15) from the Dominican Republic.
On paper this doesn't look awful, though in reality it is a step backwards for Bivol, and is a long way from the type of bouts fans had been hoping for from him. After a run of wins over top 15 type guys likes Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr the hope was for Bivol to face one of the division's top, top fighters. Bouts against the likes of Sergey Kovalek, Artur Beterbiev, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Gilberto Ramirez, Jesse Hard or Marcus Browne. As for Castillo it's a huge opportunity for him, and ever a good performance in a loss could enhance his profile going forward.
The 28 year old Bivol, who was born in Kyrgyzstan, has been on the radar of fans for a few years and he was aggressively matched early on in his career. Unlike many fighters he didn't need easy fights, and instead every one of his pro bouts has come against an opponent with a winning record. When he claimed the WBA "interim" title in May 2016, in just his 7th bout, it was little surprise and since then he has continued to pile up the wins. Sadly though as his competition has stepped up his entertainment level has dropped off.
Early in his career Bivol was an technically excellent, aggressive fighter who hunted the stoppage. He through a lot and although it seemed like he was one paced it looked like he wanted to entertain and he wanted to go for stoppages. That was incredibly obvious against Felipe Romero where he turned the screw in the final round despite being in a very clear lead. Sadly since then Bivol has shown more of a focus on winning rather than wowing, taking decision wins, instead of impressing. The focus towards taking the win has made his fights rather samey and dull, and the early excitement of his career has began to fade. Rapidly. He's still incredibly talented, with lovely technical ability, and a solid work rate, but his performances just look uninspired and boring.
To many Castillo will be a bit of an unknown, but the 31 year old has actually been around the pro since 2009 and is well travelled, with his international debut coming in 2011. Since his debut he has fought almost half of his career outside of the Dominican republic, with the vast majority of his non-domestic bouts taking place in the US. The most notable of those bouts was his 2018 bout with Marcus Browne, when he lost a clear decision to Browne but showed enough to prove himself as a very capable fighter. In the Browne fight Castillo looked like a very big and strong fighter, with solid power, dropping Browne in round 5, and nice hand speed. The one thing he seemed to lack was real ambition and work rate. When he let his shots fly he looked dangerous, but was far too lazy.
Given that this is a huge chance for Castillo we'd hope to see him have more ambition than he did against Browne. If he does than he has the size, power and physical strength to give Bivol real issues. Bivol has the edge in work rate, technique and speed, and we suspect that will be the key, but this is unlikely to be a walk in the park for the champion.
We expect to see Bivol using good in and out movement whilst landing with his quicker shots, but we really wouldn't be surprised at all if Castillo has moments against him, and takes more than just a round or two. Bivol's consistency should take him to a clear decision, but this is a legitimate test against a man who will have reach and height advantages and will ask questions of Bivol.
Prediction - UD12 Bivol
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.