By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On New Year’s Eve, we close 2020 with a bang, as Kazuto Ioka puts the WBO Super Flyweight crown on the line against the man who aims to steal his thunder and become the 2nd ever Japanese 4 weight world champion, Kosei Tanaka.
Kazuto Ioka (25-2/14 KOs) is without a doubt one of the most decorated boxers that has come out of the land of the rising sun. A 10 year veteran, Ioka has had his fair share of wars.
His first major test arrived in 2011 when he challenged the unbeaten Kittipong Jaigrajang (35-0 at the time) for the WBC Strawweight title. Jaigrajang was champion for 4 years and had 6 title defenses under his belt. The Japanese hopeful went toe to toe with the Thai fighter, even knocking him down as early as in the second round and then once more in the fifth, with a lethal body blow, sealing the deal and becoming a world champion at only 21 years of age. Ioka defended his championship twice the same year, against Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Veerawut Yuthimitr.
6 months later, he was involved in a unification bout with the WBA champion and fellow rising star, Akira Yaegashi. Their careers shared many similarities. Yaegashi was also an accomplished amateur, with a record of 56-14, and had also won the National Sports Festival back in 2002. Both men brought their A game that night, knowing what was at stake. An epic back and forth affair, that brought the fans to their feet, ended with Ioka earning the unanimous decision and leaving Osaka with 2 belts.
Having conquered the Strawweight division, Ioka decided to move up a weight class and faced Jose Alfredo Rodriguez for the vacant WBA (Regular) Light Flyweight title. Rodriguez was the former interim champ, with 28 wins and only 1 decision loss. The Japanese prodigy systematically picked him apart with body shots and hooks, dropping him thrice for the win as well as for his second divisional title reign, where he enjoyed another long run, marking 3 successful defenses over Phissanu Chimsunthom, former world champion Ekkawit Songnui and Felix Alvarado (current IBF Light Flyweight champion).
After securing the WBA Flyweight title in a close encounter with Juan Carlos Reveco, they rematched on NYE of 2015 and as usual, Ioka’s body work was the key factor, stopping Reveco in the 11th round, in what was once again a very even fight. As Flyweight champ, he made five successful title defenses, over the likes of Roberto Domingo Sosa, Juan Carlos Reveco (as mentioned above), Keyvin Lara, Yutthana Kaensa and Nare Yianleang. His toughest one had to be against Kaensa. The interim WBA champion, with a perfect record of 16-0, shocked everyone when he knocked Ioka down, with a fast counter hook, in the second round. Ioka had never been dropped before in his career. Kaensa kept the pressure on for the majority of the fight, giving the local favorite a bigger challenge than expected. The tables turned however as Ioka put the Thai boxer down with a liver shot in the seventh round and proceeded to finish him off by keep punishing his body even more.
Ioka would go on to make history in 2019, when he fought Aston Palicte for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. The veteran dragged him into deep waters, wearing his opponent down, until he finally hurt the Filipino with 2 massive straight rights, followed by a plethora of punches, forcing the stoppage and becoming the 1st (male) Japanese boxer in history to win world championships in 4 different weight classes. Now, Ioka’s unique accomplishment is being threatened by a young and cocky fighter, who looks to create a legend of his own.
A bright star on the rise, Kosei Tanaka (15-0/9 KOs) has been on the fast track since the beginning of his career, winning the Oriental title in just his 4th professional bout, after defeating the then top ranked Ryuji Hara.
5 months removed from that breakout performance, Tanaka became the WBO Strawweight champion, with his sole defense being against Vic Saludar. Tanaka’s aggressive nature 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 liver shot to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the title in 2018)
Tanaka would then move up to Light Flyweight and once again captured gold, putting on a boxing clinic against 2 weight champion Moises Fuentes. He comfortably defended the WBO championship over knockout artist Angel Acosta, but had a rough time against Rangsan Chayanram. Much like the Saludar fight, his fighting style got him in serious trouble. Not only he got dropped in the opening round, but even when Tanaka returned fire and finished Chayanram 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.
Upon his return to the ring, this time at Flyweight, he outclassed the then unbeaten Ronnie Baldonado, earning a shot at Sho Kimura. 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. 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 proceeded to dispatch mandatory challengers Jonathan Gonzalez, dropping him 4 times with body shots and then Wulan Tuolehazi, whom he knocked out with a beautiful double uppercut combo. One year later to the day, Tanaka will make his Super Flyweight debut against a battle tested champion, in what could very well be the most important fight of his entire career.
Overall speaking, Ioka is the better boxer. He has a good defense, likes to keep his distance and throws sharp jabs and left hooks. He also puts together excellent combinations, attacking the head and the body seamlessly, leaving almost no space for his opponents to work on an effective offense of their own. On the other hand, Tanaka is definitely the faster and stronger of the two. Moreover, it seems like he’s gaining more KO power as he moves up each weight class. His only weakness has to be his reckless abandon style. In his latest fights though, Tanaka has showed a more composed side of his, but you never know when he’s going to throw caution to the wind again. If he does, Ioka will be there to punish the youngster for his impudent behavior.
At the end of the day, no matter what happens, this is promised to be an exciting clash between 2 of the best boxers in Japan today. Will this be a passing of the torch? Or will the “old king” manage to hold on to his throne a little longer? We will find out on New Year’s Eve!
On December 20th we see a really interesting match up for the IBF Flyweight title, pitting a veteran champion against a little known challenger in a major step up. On paper the bout doesn't look the most appealing, especially to those who have followed the two men, however we suspect the reality is that this will be a lot more compelling that it looks. In fact we're genuinely expecting a very, very interesting match as the champion faces the double teaming of his opponent and father time.
The champion in question is 38 year old IBF Flyweight king Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26), the ageless wonder of South Africa. Mthalane, enjoying his second reign as the champion, will be seeking his 4th successive defense since winning the title back in July 2018, when he narrowly escaped with a win over Muhammad Waseem. In the opposite corner to the veteran champion will be little known Filipino Jayson Mama (15-0, 8), a 23 year old who has quietly been building a reputation for himself at home, with out too much fuss and attention. Although relatively unknown Mama youth on his side as well as hunger, an unbeaten record and he's still very much a fighter who is improving with every bout.
Before we go into detail about the bout it's self it is worth noting that this will be the first time in 43 bouts that Mthalane will be fighting in his home of KwaZulu-Natal. Something that may well add something extra to the bout. It could be that the emotion of being at home will help Mthalane or could, potentially, be a hindrance with the added pressure of needing to perform at home after several years of fighting on the road.
The 38 year old South African is often a forgotten man in the sport, which is a real shame as he's had an excellent 20 year career in the sport. He made his debut in December 2000, aged 18, and won his first 14 bouts before losing in 10 rounds to Nkqubela Gwazela in a South African Flyweight title. He would would bounce back from that loss with 9 straight wins, including a notable one against Hussein Hussein, in an IBF world title eliminator. That win lead to a 2008 bout with Nonito Donaire that saw Mthlane give Donaire fits before being stopped in round 6 due to a cut. In the 12 years since that loss however Mthalane has gone unbeaten, winning 16 fights, and becoming a 2-time IBF Flyweight champion.
During his 16 fight winning run Mthalane has scored really impressive and notable wins. He stopped Julio Cesar Miranda for the IBF title around a year after his bout with Donaire then went on to record 4 defenses, stopping Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez before vacating the title. He vacated due to a paltry purse bid offer for a fight in Thailand with Amnat Ruenroeng, and then, sadly, sat out of the ring for the entire year. On his return to the ring he won the IBO title, and picked up a few low key wins before re-claiming the IBF title in 2018, with a win in Malaysia over Muhammad Waseem. Since reclaiming the title Mthalane has built a reputation as a Japan-killer, beating Masahiro Sakamoto at the end of 2018, Masayuki Kuroda in May 2019 and Akira Yaegashi in December 2019.
Notably Mthalane's not fought since December 2019, and we do wonder if ring rust will be an issue here along with his age, but it's hard to deny that his record is an impressive one and is getting better with time.
In the ring the South African is a brilliant technician. He can box, he can fight, he can apply intelligent pressure. The only thing lacking is true 1-punch KO power, but he's got solid pop in his hands, excellent speed, brilliant accuracy, fantastic stamina, brilliant experience, an unerring calmness, true self belief and a brilliant ability to take a shot when he needs to. At his best he's a boxer, though when he needs to become a fighter he can, as we saw last time out against Akira Yaegashi. There are areas to pick on, and we do wonder if he can keep high work rate for 12 rounds against an aggressive fighter, but he's shown a lot to like during his long, successful, and often over-looked career.
Aged 23 Jayson Mama is very much a fighter who is slowly making a name for himself with out too much fuss, and without too much attention. He's been a professional since 2016, when he was just 18, and had created a buzz for himself following a very strong 2015 in the amateurs, picking up a number gold medals in Filipino Youth tournaments including the Philippines National Games, the Manny Pacquiao Sports Challenger and the Palaron Pambansa.
Despite having a solid 2015 in the amateurs Mama's team were cautious early on and matched him to be busy, rather than tested in 2016, when he picked up 5 wins, including one over Roland Jay Biendima which has aged excellently. In 2017 he was less active, picking up 3 wins, though did face more notable domestic names, such as Bimbo Nacionales and Rodel Tejares. He was just as busy in 2018, though managed to again move forward and achieve more, winning the WBO Oriental Youth Flyweight title, making his international debut in Macao and going 10 rounds for the first time.
Mama really moved his career forward in 2019 winning the IBF Silk Road Flyweight tournament, beating Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in the final, before stopping former world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng and then beating Dexter Alimento. Sadly he has only fought once this year, and that was very much a tick over fight in February against domestic foe Reymark Taday,
In the ring Mama looks razor sharp with his jab, he looks calm and relaxed, judges distance well and likes to work with some space. On the inside he looks less effective, and looks like he can be bullied and out muscled up close, but at range he looks very solid and well schooled with a lot of ring craft. Despite being well schooled the feeling with watching Mama is that he really lacks power and physicality. His shots don't have much sting on them and he will struggle to get the respect of opponents, something we've seen him failed to do against his best opponents so far. He's a very good boxer, but we're not sure if he has toughness, the power or the strength to make a mark at the top.
For Mama this bout is a big step up and if it was just purely boxing skills he would have a decent chance against Mthalane. Both are very talented boxers, and Mama would certainly be able to hold his own. Sadly however it's the things missing with Mama that give us concern here. His lack of fight changing power, his weak inside game, and inability to back up opponents will be a massive issue for him against Mthalane. Of course Mthalane is old, and has had a hard career, but we suspect he still has enough to deal with the Filipino challenger here.
We're expecting to see Mama have a good start, using his speed and jab well, taking the early initiative before being ground down by the consistent, clean work of Mthalane, who we suspect will force a late stoppage of the Filipino challenger.
This is probably too much too soon for Mama, though we fully understand his team taking their opportunity here and rolling the dice with their young hopeful.
Prediction - Mthalane TKO11
Ever since Shinsuke Yamanaka lost the WBC Bantamweight title to Luis Nery in 2017 the belt has been in a weird state of flux. Originally Nery was the champion, until he lost the belt on the scales, then Takuma Inoue won the interim title, with Nordine Oubaali winning the regular title a month later. Oubaali managed 2 defenses in 2019, including 1 over Takuma Inoue. He was then supposed to defeat the title against Nonito Donaire this year.
Sadly plans for Donaire Vs Oubaali got scrapped in November, when Oubaali contracted Covid19. As a result Donaire was then scheduled to face Puerto Rican Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12) for the vacant title, before Donaire ended up contracting Covid himself. As a result Donaire was himself replaced by fellow Filipino Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20), and it was agreed that Donaire anbd Gaballo would fight for the interim title, whilst the mess around them got sorted out.
Incidentally seeing Rodriguez getting a shot at the title now takes us weird full circle. He was supposed to face Luis Nery last year in a WBC world title eliminator, which was cancelled following Nery failed to make weight. Strangely Rodriguez wasn't then given mandatory status, with that going to Donaire, who as mentioned was supposed to fight Oubaali. As for those wondering Gaballo was himself scheduled to fight on this very same card, against Chilean foe Jose Velasquez (28-6-2, 19) for the WBA "interim" Bantamweight title.
Despite all the changes and swapping of fighters, we're expecting a great bout here between two men desperate to make a name for themselves, and make the most of a very odd situation.
Of the two fighters it's Emmanuel "Manny" Rodriguez who is the better known. He is a Puerto Rican fighter who first made his name in the amateurs winning the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics and coming second at the AIBA Youth World Boxing Championships. When he turned professional in 2012 there was solid expectations on him to have success in the professional ranks though he was matched relatively softly early on. In 2014 he took a step up in class and impressed, knocking out Cartagena in the opening round. It was proof that he was a talent but sadly it took a long time to get a big bout, with his first world title contest coming in May 2018, when he easily beat an over-weight Paul Butler in the UK to claim the IBF Bantamweight title.
It seemed that Rodriguez's win over Butler would be his coming out party, and lead him to entering the WBSS. In his WBSS quarter final he narrowly out-pointed Jason Moloney, retaining his IBF title by split decision over the talented Aussie before returning to the UK and losing in 2 rounds to Naoya Inoue in May 2019 in a WBSS semi-final. Since then he hasn't fought, in part due to Luis Nery failing to make weight for a bout against him last year, as mentioned earlier.
In the ring Rodriguez is a very skilled, quick, and well schooled fighter. His amateur pedigree shows in the ring and he's very smooth and natural between the ropes, with a good crisp jab and a very sharp right hand. He likes to dictate the action from the center of the ring and did ask questions of Inoue last year in the opening round. He takes a good shot when he needs to and moves well. Sadly though there are question marks about his stamina, which showed in the second half against Moloney, and despite having a solid first round against Inoue he did several left hooks before being taken out in round 2 when Inoue began to go through the gears. As well as the issues we saw against Inoue there is also 19 months of inactivity since that bout, and he's had no confidence building bout since.
Gaballo is a somewhat unheralded Filipino, who's now just 24, has the tools to be a star, and it looked like he was on the way to becoming a major name in 2018 when he upset previously unbeaten American Stephon Young in Florida to claim the WBA Interim title. Sadly that title lead him to nothing, however a win over Rodriguez would see him make a name for himself.
Gaballo made his debut in 2014, as a 17 year old, and immediately looked like one to watch as he bowled over his first 4 opponents inside the opening rounds, in the space of 5 months. He was up against novices, but was needing around a minute per fight. His first 5 bouts ended early before he finally started to go rounds, going 4 rounds with Rodel Garde and 6 with Paulo Perono. Amazingly they, along with Stephon Young, are the only men to hear the final bell with Gaballo. After back to back decisions wins Gaballo went back on a tear stopping 11 opponents in a row, including 9 in the first 2 rounds.
Whilst many opponents during Gaballo's stoppage run were poor he did manage to pick up experience on the road, stopping veteran Ernesto Guerrero in Hawaii and Ulises Rivero in Mexico before facing Young and proving he was a real one to watch. He dropped Young in round 3 and took a 12 round decisions, proving his stamina in the process and taking the WBA interim title. Sadly however the risk/reward for facing him was ridiculous and no one came forth for his interim title, leading him to having 4 low profile bouts afterwards, all ending in the first 6 rounds.
In the ring Gaballo is a legitimate nightmare. Technically he is crude, he's open, he can leave gaps to counter and he can get over-excited when he has his man hurt. However he gets away with it for 3 reasons. He's incredibly heavy handed. What he hits he hurts, and that's with both hands. His jab is like a ramrod, his hook is like a sledgehammer and his right hand is pure dynamite when it lands. He combines that power with scary hand-speed, and he can land a punch before an opponent gets the chance to react to his openness. He's also very unpredictable, and trying to time him with counters is tricky due to how unpredictable he is and how he mixes straight shots with some very wide ones. Trying to get a read on where he's punching from, with his speed and power, makes him a very dangerous fighters. He's also, in more recent bouts, shown a willingness to take his time when he needs to, and it's clear that he can box as well as bang, and does, as mentioned, have a very good, if somewhat under-utilised, jab.
On paper Rodriguez should be the favourite. He's the better technical fighter, the more proven man and the one with gulf in experience, at least in terms of quality experience. However a lengthy break from the ring, a loss last time out to Inoue and with the comedown from facing a legend like Donaire to facing an unknown like Gaballo could well have an impact on him and his performance.
Gaballo on the other hand will be riding high. He was in training for a bout on this show, and has seen his opportunity improve. He has gone from being on a supporting bout to being in the headline bout, and being given a chance to steal the limelight. We think that get the best from him.
We expect a cautious start, from both, but ring rust and mental doubt will creep into Rodriguez as the bout goes on. By round 4 or 5 we'll start to see Gaballo settle, get comfortable, and put his foot on the gas. We don't think Gaballo will blow Rodriguez out, but we do think he has the power and speed to drop the Puerto Rican, make him gun shy and work his way to a clear decision win, and the WBC "interim" Bantamweight title.
Prediction - Gaballo UD12
On December 18th, just a week before Christmas, we'll see the next big show from DAZN. The most notable bout on that card, by some margin, is the ring return of IBF Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1, 35), who looks to make his first defense since recapturing the title last year. In the opposite corner to the Kazakh great is unbeaten Polish challenger Kamil Szeremeta (21-0, 5), who will be getting the biggest fight of his career, by some margin.
The bout has been one of the many long running saga's of 2020. The bout had been spoken about as taking place in the spring, before Golovkin required surgery. It was then delayed several times due to the on going global situation and now it's been 14 months since Golovkin beat Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the title in their 2019 barn burner.
At his best Golovkin was, legitimately, one of the best fighters in the sport. He was a very well schooled fighter who had been developed fantastically in the amateurs. He had then turned professional and had risen through the ranks quietly until making his American debut in 2012, at the age of 30. By that point he was 23-0 (20). Despite being a well schooled fighter Golovkin really made his name as an aggressive boxer-puncher, showcasing brutal power, an iron chin, and a decent boxing brain with a charming personality. He was helped by HBO pushing him as a legitimate star and he went on a good run though solid B tier contenders, whilst failing to secure a massive mega fight until 2017. It was then he fought Daniel Jacobs, taking a win over Jacobs, but by then Golovkin was already 34, and it seemed like that was the start of his slowdown.
Since beating Jacobs, in a very close fight, Golovkin has gone 3-1-1, with his loss and draw both coming in close fights to Mexican star Saul Alvarez. In our eyes he had done enough to deserve a win in the first bout but had, fairly, lost the second.
In his pomp Golovkin really looked like a terminator in the ring. He wasn't the most defensively aware but that hardly mattered. His chin was rock solid, he walked through fire when he had to, and had bricks for hands. He could also maintain a wolid work rate, and was great up top and to the body. Often making opponents mentally crumble just as much as physically fall apart. Now at the age of 38 and with injuries piling up we do wonder what he has left, and he really was pushed hard by Derevyanchenko last time out, adding 12 tough miles on to the clock. In fact since that Jacobs fight Golovkin had taken a lot of punishment with 24 rounds against Canelo and the 12 against Derevyanchenko and we do wonder just how many more tough bouts he has left in him.
At 31 years old Szeremeta is pretty much at the "now or never" stage of his career. Sadly for him he's not really had the fights to prepare for this level of fight, though he has had good success in the European ranks, beating the likes of Rafal Jackiewicz, Patrick Mendy, Alessandro Goddi, Ruben Diaz and Andrew Francillette, as well as the shell of Kassim Ouma. Sadly though his competition is really, at best, European level and worryingly he's struggled to make an impact even at that level, in terms of power. In fact with only 5 stoppages in 21 bouts he is among the most feather fisted fighters to challenger for a title, at any weight, this year.
Despite his competition being poor Szeremeta himself isn't actually an awful fighter. He's got nice hand, lovely upperbody movement and picks a shot well, with a very nice crisp, sharp jab. He looks at his best when he's stood in the center of the ring, applying pressure, using his jab to tattoo an opponents face and countering well. Technically he does look a talented fighter who knows his way around the ring and how to box. He's fairly basic, and super feather fisted, but he can box.
Whilst we certainly think that Golovkin is on the slide, and has been for a few years, it's hard to see what Szeremeta can really do to ask questions of him. Yes Szeremeta is skills, but like many of Golovkin's former opponents there is nothing there too make you give him a chance against the Kazakh. In fact if anything the fact Szeremeta likes to hold his ground is going to be a major issue and leave him open to Golovkin's heavy shots, especially to the body.
We suspect that Szeremeta will have success early on, and might even manage to win a few rounds from Golovkin early on. But then we see Golovkin catching up with the Pole, hammering him with solid, single shots, having no fear of what's coming back, and breaking down Szeremeta in the middle rounds.
Prediction - Golovkin TKO 7
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.