On December 31st we'll see the decade come to an end, ending what has been an amazing decade of boxing. The final world title bout of the decade comes from Japan, because who else puts on New Year's Eve boxing? And will see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (24-2, 14) defending his title against mandatory challenger Jeyvier Cintron (11-0-0-1, 5). For Ioka this will be his 18th world title bout, in a career that will likely always be over-looked by many, whilst Cintron will be getting his first world title bout.
To close out a decade this isn't a huge world title fight, but given how much of a star Ioka is in Japan this is still a huge deal and it looks likely to be a great chance for Japanese fans to begin their new year celebrations just a few hours early.
Ioka has been one of the most notable Japanese fighters of the decade, in fact if we're being honest he has been one of the most notable fighter of the decade end of. He has fought at world level since 2011, and even with a retirement part way through the decade he has continued to be a very relevant figure in boxing, making a successful comeback. As many are aware boxing flows through Ioka's veins, his father was a fighter and his uncle was famously a 2-weight world champion. That family linage has help make Ioka a star, and Japan's first male 4-weight world champion and only the 4th man in history win titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115.
Ioka is one of the sports most over-looked fighters. He's an excellent boxer-puncher, a brilliant body puncher and despite only having 26 fights to his name he is someone who has fought almost his entire career at world level. Going through his record reads like a who's who of the lower weights with wins over Oleydeong Sithsamerchai, Akira Yaegashi, Juan Hernandez, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo and Aston Palicte. He's adaptable and a genuinely fantastic all-round talent, though will sadly always be Japan's #2, at best, behind Naoya Inoue.
Cintron was a top amateur, a 2-time Olympian, and had won his first 10 bouts before having a No Contest with Koki Eto in a world title eliminator. That No Contest was a weird one, with Cintron being stopped following a brutal headclash, though Cintron would go on to win a rematch against Eto with ease, near enough shutting out the Japanese fighter over 10 rounds. That win was his best to date and comes after other decent wins against the likes of Alonso Melendez and Marvin Solano. Decent but not world class.
Given he was a top amateur it's not going to be a surprise to say that Cintron is a talented boxer. He's light on his feet, knows how to use the ring, and fires off technically correct shots. He is however a man moving up in class, significantly, and this will be the first time he's been in the ring with a genuine world class fighter. It will also be the first time he's fought in the East and the first time he's gone into the bout as an under-dog. He's a genuine talent, and at 24 is still improving, but there is a feeling that maybe this fight is coming to soon for him. Sure Ioka was 21 years old and 6-0 (4) when he won his first world title, but he was fighting at home and was up against someone less good than he is now.
We see Cintron a a future world champion. He's an excellent young fighter with so much potential. We don't see him beating Ioka however. We expect Cintron to have early success behind his speed and movement, but Ioka's powerful body attack will take his legs away, and when that happens Ioka will begin to take over, eventually taking a clear decision over Cintron, who will grit it out and survive though some tough moments late on.
With this being the last world title fight of the decade it does see attention turn back to Ioka, who in 2010 was still a rising prospect, and for him to now close out the decade in the same way he has finished so many years recently does feel kind of right, and this will be the 8th time he had fought on the final day of the year.
Prediction UD12 Ioka
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 31st, 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka defends his WBO Flyweight title against Chinese rising star Wulan Tuolehazi.
Kosei Tanaka (14-0/8 KOs) is considered to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World championships.
He finally turned pro in 2013 and after winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked fighter Ryuji Hara (23-2) for the OPBF Strawweight belt. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men compete at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the next and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans in attendance. Finally in the 10th, Tanaka delivered a brutal nonstop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage.
5 months removed from his breakout performance, Tanaka became the WBO Strawweight World champion, after beating Julian Yedras (24-7) for the vacant crown. His sole defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (19-4). Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting tagged by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even suffering his first knockdown, before stopping Saludar with a sweet liver shot to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the World title in 2018)
Tanaka would then move up to Light Flyweight and once again captured gold, putting on a boxing clinic against former World champion Moises Fuentes (25-6). He comfortably defended the WBO championship over knockout artist Angel Acosta (21-2) but had a rough time against Rangsan Chayanram (16-2). Much like in the Saludar fight, his fighting style got him in serious trouble. Not only the Thai fighter dropped him in the opening round but even when Tanaka returned fire and finished him in the later rounds, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out of the much anticipated unification title bout with Ryoichi Taguchi on New Year’s Eve.
Upon his return to the ring, this time at Flyweight, he outclassed the then unbeaten Ronnie Baldonado (15-2), earning a shot at Sho Kimura (18-3). In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of these exchanges. In the end, the unstoppable prodigy received the majority decision and was crowned a 3 division champion, at only 23 years of age.
As fate would have it, his initial defense would be against the man he was meant to meet back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4). The former WBA & IBF champion looked like an old fighter here, unable to match Tanaka’s speed and power, getting peppered with hooks and jabs on numerous occasions, losing his second world title fight in a row and retiring shortly after. Tanaka marked his second one this past August when he dispatched mandatory challenger Jonathan Gonzalez (22-3), dropping him 4 times with body shots. Looking to close of the year with a bang, he steps into the squared circle one more time, as he takes on a rather dangerous foe coming all the way from China.
Wulan Tuolehazi (13-3) represents a new wave of Chinese boxers, who have quickly risen up in the world rankings and are looking to make an impact. In spite of a few shortcomings at the beginning of his career, he quickly bounced back and even scored a TKO victory over former WBA World champion Ekkawit Songnui (49-7) in less than 3 years into the sport.
Tuolehazi would soon come back to knock out Watana Phenbaan (18-6) with a thunderous overhand right, thus capturing the interim WBO Asia Pacific title. Wasting no time, he’d then face OPBF champion Jayr Raquinel (12-1) with the vacant WBC Silver crown on the line. Tuolehazi withstood the Filipino’s heavy punches, while buying his time, patiently waiting for openings in order to strike back. He finally floored Raquinel with a straight right in the last round, which seemingly came out of nowhere, pretty much sealing the deal and earning him a second championship.
A thrilling encounter took place earlier this year, when he locked horns with Ryota Yamauchi (5-1), this time for the WBA International belt. The Chinese star put together some strong combinations throughout the match, stunning his Japanese rival on multiple occasions and dropping him with a perfectly placed uppercut during the 3rd round. However, the tide would shift in the second half of the fight, after Yamauchi connected with a big punch to the mid-section that hurt the champion. Both men took a lot of punishment, but it was Tuolehazi that walked away with the gold. It’s worth mentioning that both Raquinel and Yamauchi were undefeated prior to these outings.
These past few months, he has defended his belt against former WBC International champion Ardin Diale (35-15) in yet again another very close contest as well as Satoshi Tanaka (7-6), whom he knocked down twice with body shots. Tuolehazi now aims to end 2019 by adding the World championship to his collection of belts, but that might be easier said than done.
Much like in every Tanaka fight, the question remains, will this finally be the time that his recklessness proves to be his undoing? It is well known that Tanaka’s brawling style has put him in dangerous positions, almost costing him 2 title bouts (Saludar and Chayanram) in the past, where he was saved only by his incredible knockout power and hand speed. Tuolehazi needs to exploit that chink in the champion’s armor, if he wants to emerge victorious. His best shot is to wait for Tanaka to go on the offensive and then counter strike with the right, which is his biggest weapon. His high threshold for pain will be put to test more than ever before against a man who loves to attack nonstop.
To conclude with, it’s almost guaranteed that Kosei will be triumphant in this title defense as well, against a seemingly inferior opponent, but then again crazier things have happened in the boxing ring. Either way, we will find out for sure on New Year’s Eve.
On December 23rd Japan's Ryota Murata (15-2, 12) will look to make his first defense of the WBA Middleweight title, as he takes on hard hitting Canadian foe Steven Butler (28-1-1, 24). The bout will be the main event of a triple header in Yokohama and is expected to draw in an immense TV audience in Japan, as well as a solid audience from external markets, with the bout being shown around the world. For Murata the bout is a chance to claim a notable win and move towards some huge bouts in 2020, with talk of potential bouts against the likes of Saul Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford in the near future. As for Butler the bout is a huge opportunity to become a star, and go from contender to champion.
Of the two men it's Murata who is the star. What many don't realise is just how much of a star he is in Japan. He is probably the only man with a bigger fan base in the country than Naoya Inoue. We all know Inoue is a star, and the fact Murata matches him shows what a draw he is. He's a former amateur standout, who famously won a gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 and also won a silver medal at the World Amateur Championships in 2011. He is the first Japanese fighter to go from winning Olimpic gold to winning a world title as a professional, and he is also only the second ever Japanese fighter to win a world title at Middleweight, following Shinji Takehara.
For those who haven't haven't seen much of Murata, he is technically quite basic. He's a a come forward pressure fighter who marches forward behind a tight guard, with a very powerful jab and works well on the inside. At times however he is inconsistent. His 2018 loss to Rob Brant saw him slowly following Brant around the ring, never getting out of second gear, never letting his hands go with any consistency and never fully committing to his strengths. He tried to box the boxer, and he made to look foolish. In their rematch however he used his jab, his strength and his power and battered Brant to the point the referee needed to step in. It was only a glimpse of what Murata can do, but it did show that Murata can look good when he's aggressive. He takes a shot well, he's strong, he's powerful and when he fights to his potential he's really tough to beat. It's just a shame we rarely see him fighting at his best. At 33 years old he now needs to fight to his potential, as any slip is probably going to kill any hope of getting a super fight.
At 24 years old Butler is a rising youngster, with a power punching style and strong promotional backing. Butler likes to fight on the outside, using his freakishly long arms and reach to keep the bout at range. Although he's not actually a big Middleweight he does look like a rangy Middleweight, though that may be exaggerated by the fact some of his opponents have been small, making him look bigger than he is. One thing that is really obvious from watching him, no matter who he was fighting, was the fact that whilst he is heavy handed his shots don't look particularly crisp. His power is more thudding, dead heavy hands, rather than explosive or elastic power. He often looks pushing his shots a touch. More worrying than his punching technique is the fact he really is open when he fires off shots. A top class fighter will counter him and time him, as Vitalii Kopylenko did earlier this year. As well as his openness he has also been hurt to the body, and Kopylenko actually dropped him with a body shot.
Despite the flaws with Butler he and his team are confident. They travelled to Japan more than 2 weeks before the fight, and Butler has certainly had time to acclimatise to the Japanese conditions, the change in time zone, and the weather. What that won't help with is the atmosphere, and here he is very much going into the dragons den. Whilst Japanese fans are typically respectful to visitors, they are still very behind their local hero's and they will be there cheering on Murata. For Butler to not have the crowd support could be an issue. Especially when he's having to fight off the pressure of Murata, who will be looking to get to his body and take away his legs.
Butler's power might look impressive on paper, but the reality is that this is a huge step up in class for him, and it's hard to imagine that power having the same effect on Murata that it's had on Butler's previous foes. Instead we see Butler starting with a lot of self belief, but having that self belief chipped away at. By the middle rounds Murata's body shots, stiff jab up top, and his pressure, will have destroyed the belief of Butler and will then destroy his dreams.
Prediction - TKO8 Murata
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 23rd, at the Yokohama Arena in Japan, the unstoppable Kenshiro Teraji clashes with Randy Petalcorin for the WBC World championship, as part of Fuji Boxing’s huge triple header show.
Kenshiro Teraji (16-0 / 9 KOs) was introduced to the sport, at a very young age, by his father Hisashi, a former OPBF Light Heavyweight champion. Kenshiro’s amateur career lasted 7 years, from 2007 to 2014, accumulating a record of 58-16. His most significant accomplishments were winning the 68th National Sports Festival as well as placing second at the All Japan Championships.
Turned pro in 2014, he displayed his fighting spirit early on by taking on boxers, way more experienced than him, such as Heri Amol (37-30), Katsunori Nagamine (15-2), Takashi Omae (13-6) and Rolly Sumalpong (11-3). On December of 2015, Shiro was involved in a thriller with Kenichi Horikawa (40-16) for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Despite having only 5 pro fights under his belt, Shiro went toe to toe with the veteran for 10 rounds, which kept the fans at Korakuen on their feet, applauding the efforts of both men. When the fight was over, the young lion left the victor and the new champion.
Moving on from that breakout performance, Teraji made his inaugural defense over one time world title challenger Atsushi Kakutani (19-7). The “Smiling Assassin” was absolutely dominant, knocking Atsushi down thrice, in just the opening round, for the TKO win. He also acquired the vacant OPBF crown when he defeated Toshimasa Ouchi (22-9) and defended it against Lester Abutan (13-10), whom he crushed with a lethal flurry of punches.
The unstoppable Japanese superstar eventually earned his big opportunity, in May of 2017, as he challenged Ganigan Lopez (36-11) for the WBC Light Flyweight World Championship, at the Ariake Colosseum. Both challenger and champion fought valiantly, in a very close encounter, which undoubtedly was the biggest test of Kenshiro’s career at the time. “El Maravilla” had won the belt the previous year from Yu Kimura, and was determined to leave Japan once again with the gold. Kenshiro on the other hand, wasn’t going to let his moment go to waste. It was a hard hitting contest that saw the Japanese fighter taking on a heavy beating but kept on coming back with strong offense of his own. During the last round, Lopez and Kenshiro left it all in the ring, as they engaged in a wild brawl, which was the perfect conclusion to this bout. In the end, the judges scored the match in favor of the local hero, thus declaring him the new world champion, at the age of 25.
Teraji proceeded to defend his title, the same year, twice. His first challenger was former World champion Pedro Guevara (36-3). It was a slow and methodical contest which turned into a slugfest during the last 4 rounds, where he showcased his incredible hand speed and body work, which led him getting the majority decision. His second was Gilberto Pedroza (18-6). It was a one-sided affair that ended violently in the 4th, when the champ stormed Pedroza with a plethora of body shots.
As it was expected, the rematch between Teraji and Lopez was finally set to take place last year at Ota-City’s General Gymnasium. Many fans and critics alike believed that the Mexican was robbed in their previous encounter and expected him to regain his championship. In a stunning turn of events, Kenshiro stopped Lopez in just the second round after he landed a perfectly timed liver shot, leaving the former champion unable to answer the referee’s 10 count, plus putting any doubts of his legitimacy to rest.
A few months later, he squared off with the former IBF World champion Milan Melindo (37-5). Undoubtedly one of his best performances today, Teraji dominated in every round, almost leaving no room for offense to the Filipino, punishing Melindo with fast combinations through out the match, until the end came in the 7th round, via referee stoppage.
After a voluntary defense against Saul Juarez (25-10), Kenshiro put his title on the line against Jonathan Taconing (28-4) this past July. The longtime WBC International champion was riding a 6 fight winning streak and had the highest finishing ratio of any of the Japanese star’s previous foes, with 78.5% of his wins coming via knockout (22 KOs in total). Teraji managed to weather the early storm and counter attack every time Taconing tried to close the distance. Eventually he caught him with a shift right straight to mark his 6th defense. The Smiling Assassin will step into the ring, once more, before the year is over, taking on another opponent from the Philippines.
A 10 year veteran of the sport, Randy Petalcorin (31-3 / 23 KOs) began building his career back in his home country, pilling up wins before taking his first international trip. Up until that point, he had amassed 19 victories, 1 draw and only 1 loss to future World champion Marlon Tapales.
He travelled to Australia in 2013, where he met Ophat Niamprem (35-24). Not the most impressive record, but with 27 KOs under his belt, Ophat wasn’t someone to look past. Petalcorin came in hot and dropped him early on, courtesy of his favorite weapon, the left straight. He stunned him again in the 3rd round with the same move, before going in for the kill, showcasing his uncanny hand speed. They fought each other for a second time, with the exact same result, scoring a knockdown and then overwhelming the Thai fighter with a plethora of punches.
The “Razor” would go on to face Walter Tello (21-11) for the interim WBA Light Flyweight World title, on August of 2014. It was an exciting affair. 7 rounds of nonstop action. Finally the end came when Randy put the man from Panama down with a left uppercut/right hook combo and sealed the deal with another uppercut seconds later, capturing the crown.
His one an only defense was against WBO Asia Pacific champion Yiming Ma (13-7), whom he kept punishing with the left straight, scoring 3 back to back knockdowns in less than two minutes, stopping him in the opening round. Petalcorin would go 8-2 in his next fights, losing a controversial decision to Omari Kimweri (17-5) and to reigning IBF champion Felix Alvarado (35-2).
Petalcorin is obviously not on the same level as Teraji and has struggled against world class opponents. However, he still poses a threat to anyone that goes up against him. He’s quite aggressive, mostly relying on the power of his left hand to do the damage and then swarm in to finish the job. Not the best defensive guy, but because of that, his style makes him an exciting fighter to watch, as he doesn’t mind taking a punch, just so he can dish one back. It’s also worth mentioning that the majority of his knockouts have come within the first 3 rounds (17 KOs).
What people should expect here is a fan friendly contest between 2 men that know how to put on a show. This isn’t going to be a boxing clinic, not by a longshot. Petalcorin will try to end this one quickly, throwing bombs, as he knows that he doesn’t stand a chance against Kenshiro, if this goes to the deep waters. The exchanges should be a thing of beauty to behold as both possess crazy hand speed. Eventually the champ will start taking over and go for the knockout probably before the 6th round. All in all, this is a match you do not want to miss…..or blink.
On December 23rd in Yokohama fight fans get a really interesting card with 3 world title bouts taking place. One of those world bouts could quite fairly be described as a must win bout for both men, who know a loss will likely send them into retirement, and at very least give them little option but to seriously question their future in the sport.
That bout is the IBF Flyweight title bout, which pits current champion Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25) against 2-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi (28-6, 16). Entering the bout the 37 year old Mthalane will be looking to make his third defense, of his second reign, whilst Yaegashi will be be looking to become a 4 time champion, just a couple of months short of his 37th birthday. For Flyweights these two men are ancient and bother are grizzled veterans.
As the champion Mthalane deserves to really be credited for what is a disappointingly over-looked career. He is a 2-time IBF Flyweight champion who first won the title in 2009, when he beat Julio Cesar Miranda, and never actually lost the belt in the ring. Instead of travelling to Thailand to defend it against the then unknown Amnat Ruenroeng for pennies he vacated it. A decision that was a bad one at a time when he needed fights, but one he finally recovered from when he became a 2-time champion in 2018.
Mthalane, from South Africa, is unbeaten in over a decade, with his last loss coming to Nonito Donaire way back in 2008 and since then he has gone 15-0 (10), with notable wins over the likes of Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero, Ricardo Nunez, Muhammad Waseem and most recently Masayuki Kuroda.
In the ring the champion is a crafty but aggressive pressure fighter. He's not the quickest, but he is incredibly sharp, with a very high boxing IQ and unerring accuracy. His composure is excellent and he judges distance brilliantly. He knows his way around the ring, he's a natural there, and he knows how to be aggressive but safe. Notably though he is ageing, and there's always a potential question over father time, especially for a lower weight fighter in their mid 30's. Overall he's not taken much punishment but with close to 240 rounds under his belt he as certainly racked up ring miles, and miles in training.
The challenger, Yaegashi, is a fighter who will be well known to fight fans around the globe for his list of world title bouts, and other thrillers. His first world title bout came way back in 2007, hen he lost to Eagle Den Junlaphan and suffered a nasty injury in that bout. Since then however he has proven to be a warrior, and someone with desire to not only win, but to put on a show. His 2011 bout with Pornsawan Porpramook, which he won to become the WBA Minimumweight champion, was regarded by many as the Fight of the Year, whilst his 2012 clash with Kazuto Ioka was a massive all-Japanese unification bout. He lost to Ioka but would then move up in weight to claim the WBC and Lineal Flyweight title, defending it several times before running into Roman Gonzalez, at his best. A short reign as the IBF Light Flyweight champion followed, thanks to an often forgotten battle with Javier Mendoza. After being blown out by Milan Melindo in 2017 his career looked over, but 3 stoppage wins have seen his team back him for one more big fight.
For those who haven't seen Yaegashi you've missed out on one of the sports most consistently entertaining fighters of the last decade or so. He's dubbed the Fierce Warrior in Japan and not without good reason. Win or lose he's been in violent wars, fight after fight. Win or lose his face has regularly swollen up in a grotesque mess, a proud bad of war worn with honour by Yaegashi. He's a talented boxer, with light feet and great stamina, but often that boxing ability takes a backwards step as he gets involved in brawls, using his hand speed to out fight opponents. As he's gotten older he's had more and more exchanges, and his 2018 bout with Hirofumi Mukai is a great example of the type of war Yaegashi has needlessly involved himself in.
Sadly for Yaegashi this is the type of match up that doesn't look good for him. Against slower footed fighters he can shine, he can get in, he can get his shots off and he can get out. Against fighters with sharp punches and good timing however he is countered, caught coming in and has his facial swelling playing an issue. As he's aged his punch resistance has dropped and this is a major problem against a fighter like Mthalane.
We see this as being an action fight early on, with Yaegashi taking the fight to Mthalane, getting in and out for a round or two. Then we suspect he gets caught, and his warrior mentality kicks in, before Mthalane begins to break him down, and by the middle rounds a swollen, bloodied and battered Yaegashi is finally stopped by the referee, who will have seen enough.
Prediction - TKO7 Mthalane
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.