It's fair to say that 2021 has not been the year any of us wanted, expected or needed. It is, much like 2020, a year that will go down as one we want to forget, scrub from history, and never need to repeat. Thankfully it is about to end, and we are about to go in 2022, a year where hopefully normality will resume after a couple of frustrating years.
The last major fight before the end of the year will be held this Friday as Kazuto Ioka (27-2, 15) defends his WBO Super Flyweight title against fellow Japanese fighter Ryoji Fukunaga (15-4, 14), in a bout that was rushed after the emergence of the Omicron variant lead to Japan closing it's borders to international travellers. A change that forced the cancelation of a bout between Ioka and IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas and left the promoters scrambling for a replacement that was already in Japan, something that gave Fukunaga this very, very unexpected shot at the WBO title.
Despite the late opponent change for Ioka it's a bout he needs to take seriously, especially if he wants to land a massive fight in 2022 against the likes of Ancajas, Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. It's also a bout that sees him taking on a supposedly lesser opponent, but someone he knows he can't over-looked, especially after having had 3 successive mandatory title defenses since winning the title in summer 2019. Those mandatories weren't pushovers either, coming against the then unbeaten Jeyvier Cintron, 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka and former unified Minimumweight champion Francisco Rodriguez Jr, who all gave Ioka different types of tests.
The 32 year Japanese champion is one of the major faces of Japanese boxing, and is up there with Naoya Inoue and Ryota Murata as the three most notable Japanese boxers right now. He's been a world champion, on and off, for a over a decade now having first won a world title in February 2011, and has won titles at 105lbs, 108lbs, 112lb and 115lbs and managed to unify titles down at 105lbs. He has a resume that puts him in the mix for a future Hall of Fame place, with wins against the likes of Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Akira Yaegashi, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo, and the aforementioned pairing of Tanaka and Rodriguez Jr.
In the ring Ioka is a brilliant technical boxer, and someone who has proven to be amazingly adaptable. He's a a boxer first and foremost, with spectacular body punching, under-rated speed and movement and respectable power but his really impressive traits are his boxing brain, his timing, his understanding of the ring, and his ability to think his way through tough spots. We've seen him play pressure fighter, as he did against Cintron, we've seen him turn full on counter puncher, as he did against Tanaka and we've seen him put on everything in between. He is a very, very accomplished all rounder, with very few weak areas. There are areas where he doesn't shine, such as his lack of brutal power, but he more than makes up for it in other areas.
As for Fukunaga he is very much a raw fighter, who has achieved a lot despite being completely under-the-radar outside of Japan. He made his debut in 2013 and despite losing 2 of his first 6 bouts he turned things around to win the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year on route to running up a 10-2 (10) record. His 6 fight winning run came to an end in 2018 when he was beaten in back to back fights by Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. Since then however he has gone on a notable run beating Froilan Saludar to win the WBO Asia Pacific title and Kenta Nakagawa, to unify the WBO Asia Pacific title with the OPBF and Japanese titles, and most recent he defended those three titles with a win over Hayate Kaji back in October, in what was actually his first decision win.
At his best Fukunaga has always been a bit of an offensive monster. He is naturally heavy handed, throws a lot of leather, and has damaging combinations. His offense is best defense, and his wins over Saludar and Nakagawa both showed that. He also showed real heart, climbing off the canvas to stop Saludar, and simply breaking down and beating up Nakagawa, in what was a late contender for the 2020 Japanese Fight of the Year. Sadly though aged 35 it does appear his tough bouts are catching up with him and he looked very, very lucky last time out when he barely scraped past Hayate Kaji, in one of the worst decisions in a Japanese ring this year. Kaji out worked, out landed and out boxed Fukunaga, who really shouldn't have got the decision. Had he suffered a loss there however, as he probably should have done, there is no doubt we wouldn't be talking about Fukunaga getting a world title fight. Sadly in that fight he seemed unable to set his feet, he was hurt repeatedly, and the speed and combinations of Kaji got him time and time again. The only saving grace for Fukunaga was his toughness, and the feeling he always had the power to turn things around, but he looked very very slow, clumsy and out of his depth there.
Sadly for Fukunaga the bout with Kaji really does suggest he has no chance here. He was hurt so frequently by Kaji that we have to assume he's shot, or on the verge of being shot. Given how easily Kaji landed single heavy shots and eye catching combinations we can't see how Ioka misses him, and the real question is whether Ioka goes after him, or allows Fukunaga's aggression to be his own downfall. Either way, Ioka hits harder than Kaji and we don't think this will end well for the challenger.
Prediction - TKO7 Ioka
This coming Tuesday we'll see Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue (21-0, 18) return to a Japanese ring for the first time in more than two years as he defends his IBF and WBA "super" Bantamweight titles against unheralded Thai challenger Aran Dipaen (12-2, 11). On paper the bout is a mismatch, with one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet essentially fighting in a tick over defense, and giving local Japanese fans something to look forward as the year comes to an end. Something that became a lot more meaningful when Japan closed it's borders, and ended up having two massive world title unification bouts being scrapped due to the on going pandemic. As a result of those bouts being scrapped, this bout will be the final would title bout to take place in Japan in 2021.
Aged 30 Aran Dipaen is a relative unknown for many. Unlike many Thai's he has travelled for fighters, and has previously fought not just in Thailand but also Russia, Japan and the UK, but his bouts on the road haven't been particularly high profile. In fact from the three he's travelled outside of Thailand for, the most notable was in the UK where he lost a controversial split decision to Tommy Frank in a bout for the WBC International Silver Super Flyweight title. Despite not being well known that doesn't mean he's not a capable fighter, he made an impact last time he was in Japan, stopping Ryohei Arakawa, and has also notched stoppages over tricky Filipino Jomar Fajardo, and the experienced Sukkasem Kietyongyuth, who typically fights at Super Bantamweight.
In the ring Dipaen, like many Thai's, can look a bit raw at times, and like a man who didn't have a long and storied amateur career. Like many Thai's his styles comes from his days as a Muay Thai fighter, and shows he has a lot more experience in the ring that his 14 professional boxing bouts. It's due to that style that he has a quite an unusual guard, and why he tends to ignore his jab to instead throw heavy right hands. His boxing skills are limited, and that's being polite, but he is naturally heavy handed, he knows his way around the ring and he's tough, rugged and refuses to just lie down. Even when he's coming off second best. He's raw as a boxer but is still dangerous and like many former Muay Thai fighters he can take real punishment and has a surprising gas tank and will to win. Sadly though he isn't particularly quick and his flat footed style, along with his lack of an educated jab, his high guard, are just asking for trouble against someone as accurate, explosive and intelligent as Inoue.
Talking about Inoue it's hard to think of things haven't already been said about the biggest name in Japanese boxing. The "Monster" is a real star, and is an incredibly rare talent who has everything a fighter can need. He has brutal power, scary physical strength, incredible speed and timing, every punch in the book, and a fantastic boxing brain. His body shots are among the very best in the sport, his jab is crisp and sharp, his left hook is scary accurate, and worryingly for his opponents he is both defensively solid and frighteningly tough. So far in his career he has fought through bad damage to his right hand, including against Omar Andres Narvaez and Yuki Sano who he out boxed whilst fighting one handed, he has also battled through bad facial damage, which he suffered against Nonito Donaire, and has shown an impressive chin when he's been tagged. Interestingly the one worry about him earlier in his career was his hands, which were damaged in a number of early career fights, but since moving to Bantamweight the hands have held up, and appears cutting down to Light Flyweight and Flyweight earlier in his career may have played a part in those injuries. He has also been working with a specialist wraps guy in recent years, which will also have helped protect his hands.
Earlier in his career the one chink in his armour was the aforementioned hands. That seemed to be the one way a fighter was going to beat him. With stand his power, then fight a one handed Inoue and take advantage. Now however there doesn't appear to be a single chink in his armour. And worryingly he seems capable of being a chameleon in the ring. We've seen him fight as a boxer, a counter puncher, a pure puncher, a boxer-mover, and a pressure fighter. He and his team, including his father Shingo and promoter Hideyuki Ohashi, know what he can do, and also know how to work gameplans to beat opponents, take advantage of their flaws, rather than just relying on Inoue's fantastic all round destructive abilities.
Sadly for Dipaen there is a lot of flaws for Inoue to take advantage of, including his slow feet, high guard and lack of a jab. Given how brutal Inoue is with his body shots, we can't help but think that Dipean's flat foot and high guard will allow the Monster space and timing to land a brutal shot to the mid-section whenever he feels like. Dipaen is tough, and one knockdown is unlikely to be the end of him, but a knockdown from a body shot will likely start his downfall, and a knockdown or two later the referee will step in and save him from himself.
We don't expect Inoue to try and blow out Dipaen too early, especially given how long fans in Japan have had to wait to see him fight at home, but we do know that once he had his man hurt he will finish him off.
Prediction - TKO4 Inoue
This coming Tuesday the Kokugikan will play host to two world title bouts. One of those is the much anticipated return to a Japanese ring for the Monster Naoya Inoue, the other however is a bout that is getting over-looked, but will likely be a compelling and competitive bout, not something we're expecting of Inoue's contest.
That bout is a WBO Minimumweight mandatory title bout, as defending champion Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6) takes on Masataka Taniguchi (14-3, 9) in a very, very intriguing match up that could help shake up a division that has been disappointing lacking in action the past two years. The bout will be Mendez's third defense since beating Vic Saludar for the title back in August 2019, but his first bout in almost 2 years, with his last one being back in February 2020 against the very limited Gabriel Mendoza. For Taniguchi the bout will be his second world title bout, and he'll be looking to build on a 3 fight winning run at domestic level.
Aged 25 Mendez is one of just two current world champions from Puerto Rico, with the other being Jonathan Gonzalez, and he is really carrying the flag for a country that has such a rich boxing history. He is a talented southpaw, who has been a professional since 2016 and has fought through the Americas, with bouts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Panama. He has also beaten a number of notable names, with two wins over Axel Aragon Vega, who gave Hiroto Kyoguchi a tough test earlier this year, and his career best win over Vic Saludar. He's an awkward, skilled, fast fighter, but one who lacks power and has gotten lucky at home a couple of times, notably in his second bout against Vega back in late 2019. Sadly he has, as mentioned, been inactive recently, and this is set to be his first bout in Asia, two things that could be pivotal here against Taniguchi in Tokyo.
In the ring Mendez, known as "Bimbito" is a southpaw who likes to keep range, makes the most of his jab, and fights at distance, often on the back foot. He's slippery, he has solid defensive skills and a good boxing brain, as well as good size for a fighter at 105lbs. Sadly though he does seem to lack power and conviction in his own arsenal, fiddling away at times, rather than asserting himself. It's worked, mostly, for him so far, but there is a real question mark over whether his tactics would have the same success away from home, where judges are perhaps less likely to give him rounds based on his jab, and somewhat negative movement. He has got nice shots in his arsenal, but all too often he doesn't seem to have the belief to use them, and instead moves and jabs.
Aged 27 Masataka Taniguchi is one of the more talented Minimumweights out there, but also a man who has just fallen short in a number of bouts during his career. He turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi, and the two were pretty much on the same type of trajectory early on with Watanabe Gym viewing the two as future stars of the gym.
Sadly whilst Kyoguchi has gone from strength to strength Taniguchi has had slip ups, such as his 2017 loss to Reiya Konishi, in a bout that as tight and as close as they come with Konishi taking a narrow majority decision. Similarly his second loss was equally as close and competitive, just 7 months later, against Tsubasa Koura. With a modicum of good fortune he could have taken wins in both of those bouts. His third loss, in 2019, was a clear one to Vic Saludar, and showed that whilst he was good, he wasn't good enough at that point to be a world champion. Notably however since that loss he has improved, notably, ans reeled off 3 of his best wins to date, beating Kai Ishizawa, Hizuki Saso and Tatsuro Nakashima, whilst winning and defending the Japanese Minimumweight title. He now seems a more determined, more polished and more compete fighter than ever before and he's learned from his set backs.
In the ring is a boxer-puncher, with an aggressive mindset, a mindset that has really come about following his losses where a little bit more aggression would likely have made a difference. He presses well, and he's intelligent, bringing intelligent pressure into the ring, looking for holes, and then making opponents pay. Although not a concussive puncher, few Minimumweights are, his straight left hand gets respect from opponents and does damage, especially with how clean he lands it. Although an aggressive fighter, he's not a reckless one, instead he's a really deliberate one, and what he throws usually lands on the target. Whilst he is a good offensive fighter, his foot work can be a bit flat, and against Mendez that could be an issue, and his punches, whilst sharp, aren't the quickest.
For Mendez his key to victory is forcing distance, staying away and fighting behind his jab, and moving. Taniguchi on the other hand will be looking to press and pressure the champion, whilst taking his legs away with good body shots. Who ever can control the distance here should win. Sadly for Mendez we suspect his inactivity and the fact he's fighting in Japan, in less than ideal circumstances, will be a major issue. We suspect he'll start well, but as the bout goes on his tank will empty, and when that happens we suspect Taniguchi will come on strong, and eventually get to his man, breaking him down late in the bout.
Prediction - TKO10 Taniguchi
Much of the attention on the boxing world this coming Tuesday will be in Japan, for a world title double header, there is however one other world title bout taking place, this time in Thailand, as long reigning WBA Minimumweight "Super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart (22-0, 8) defends his title against Filipino challenger Robert Paradero (18-1, 12).
The talented 31 year old champion is one of the longest reigning active world champions in the sport, and he has held every version of a WBA title over the years. He won the interim title way back in 2014, won the regular title in 2016 and was finally upgraded to super champion behind his 2020 bout with Norihito Tanaka. Sadly whilst his reign has been long, and has included notable wins over the likes of Byron Rojas, Carlos Buitrago, Chaozhong Xiong, Rey Loreto and Muhammad Rachman, it's been a rather boring reign. He's not looked like "Knockout" CP Freshmart and more "Decision CP Freshmart", and he falls somewhat in the same vein as Devin Haney, Dmitry Bivol and Demetrius Andrade in focusing on winning first, rather than entertaining. As a result a lot of his bouts feel like they drag on, especially in the later stages when he often becomes more reserved and more cautious.
At his best Knockout is an excellent boxer. He's intelligent, he moves well, he's clean and accurate with his punches, creates spaces, and has respectable power. There's not really too many areas to pick on regarding his skillset, though that doesn't change the fact he often fights well within himself, and is rarely pushed. Despite not having many flaws, there is some areas where's not great. His power is certainly not terrifying, his out put limited at times, there are question marks about his stamina, and we do wonder how easily he makes 105lbs given he is now 31. It's clear he is among the very best at 105lbs, but we do feel that there fighters out there who have the tools to beat him, and we think a high output fighter, with a good chin, would his Kryptonite to him.
Aged 25 Robert Paradero is a Filipino fighter who turned professional in 2014, and quietly made his name fighting at home. He won his first 18 bouts without really facing anyone of note, and it was disappointing not to see his team push him hard and actually get him decent tests and experience. It was clear he was very talented but beating the likes of Ian Ligutan, Jong Sabellina and Jonathan Almacen did little more than pad his record, and didn't get him the developmental rounds he really needed before facing a major step up. Sadly for him he was moved up, big time, earlier this year and his lack of decent level experience showed as he lost a competitive split decision to Vic Saludar for the WBA "Regular" Minimumweight title. With a few solid developmental fights he could well have beaten Saludar, but didn't have the experience he needed. Sadly coming in to this bout, Saludar is the only man of note that Paradero has faced, and it again feels like he hasn't yet had the developmental fights that he needs to face someone like Knockout CP Freshmart.
In the ring Paradero is a very nice boxer, he has a nice sharp sharp, he knows hoe to move around the ring and decent speed. Sadly though he did look out of ideas when he faced Saludar, and as the fight went on he became more and more negative, skirting around the outside of the ring whilst looking worried about the power and physicality of Saludar. It was clearly a game plan, to move and make the slower Saludar chase him, but he simply didn't do enough at times and waited too long to let his own shots go. He never looked out classed against Saludar, but he looked like a man who was simply fighting the wrong fight and failing to make the most of the opportunity. He also didn't do enough, and was far too conservative for much of the bout. He looked relaxed, even in the later stages, but he failed to put his foot on the gas in the final seconds of rounds and tried to steal them.
If Paradero was given a year of Oriental level fights, given those types of bouts to mature, develop and prepare for a world title bout, we honestly think he could pick up a title. He's got a lot going for him, but needs testing bouts to develop and learn. Sadly jumping from low level domestic foes, to Saludar and then to Knockout is not the way to develop a world champion.
Sadly travelling to Thailand is never easy, beating Knockout CP Freshmart will never be easy, and doing that after having no wins of note will also not be easy. We suspect Parader will start well, he'll have success with his speed and his long, looping shots, but overall that success will be limited and instead we'll see Knockout control large swathes of the bout. To do that he will dictate the range and tempo of the bout, he will counter Paradero, and make him think twice about throwing shots, and after 8 or 9 rounds he'll be in a comfortable lead and cruise to the final bell, and his latest defense.
Prediction - UD12 Knockout CP Freshmar
This coming Saturday is a crazily busy day in the world of professional boxing with a lot of major fighters in action and a host of world champions defending their titles. Sadly with so much going on it can be easy for a fighter to get lost in the shuffle, and that certainly seems to be the case for WBA Light Heavyweight "super" champion Dmitry Bivol (18-0, 11), who will be defending his title in Russia against Umar Salamov (26-1, 19). The bout, although a pretty damn good one, has flown under-the-radar, and almost sums up the last few years in the career of Bivol, who should have been a in huge fights by now, but is instead having one of the most frustrating careers of any world class fighter in the sport.
The 30 year old Bivol, originally from Kyrgyzstan though fighting out of Russia, is one of the very best at 175lbs. He's a smart fighter, with solid power, a high work rate, and a very good boxing brain. He has notched plenty of good wins as well, beating the likes of Felix Varela, Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal, Joe Smith Jr and Lenin Castillo. He, arguably, has the best resume of any active fighter at 175lbs. Sadly however he is also a huge frustrating figure, who has built a reputation as a fighter who is happy to win, and won't go out of his way to impress. To him it seems the victory is more important than making fans tune in and watch him, or care about him. We know he's not alone in that mentality, but it has made it easy for the other fighters in the division to freeze him out. He's too much of a high risk, low reward fighter, even with the WBA belt around his waste.
In the ring the most accurate description of Bivol is methodical. He fights at a steady tempo from round 1 to round 12, he keeps at mid to long range, uses good footwork and good straight shots. He does throw a lot of leather, in fairness to him, but it is almost all straight shots, and his inside work is very limited. He fights very much like a man who is boxing within himself and hasn't been required to use the top two gears. It's incredibly frustrating to watch him, knowing he can do so much more but know he doesn't want to do more. He just wants the win, rather than to shine, and create fan demand for bigger and better bouts. The worst thing is we know he can punch, we know he can bang, we know he can make statements, as he did when he stopped Sullivan Barerra and Trent Broadhurst, but he simply chooses not to.
Whilst Bivol is someone with the skills to impress, who has chosen not to, 27 year old Umar Salamov is someone who simply hasn't yet been given the chances to impress, but will know this is a huge opportunity for his career. He's been a professional since 2012 and began his career in Ukraine, being matched softly, before stepping up and scoring notable wins over the likes of Doudou Ngumbu, Bob Ajisafe and Eil Markic, decent European level fighters. In 2017 he differed his first loss, a razor thin one to Damien Hooper, but since then has found a nasty side going 7-0 (5) and scored decent wins against the likes of Sergei Ekimov.
In the ring Salamov is a tall, long fighter at the weight, standing at around 6'3". He looks to use his reach, fighting behind a long jab, and he does well in setting the table with it, even if it's not the most spiteful jab out there. He looks relaxed in the ring, but can be seen over-reaching and making silly mistakes, often when trying to land his right hand, which is a very powerful shot but not one thrown with much crispness to it. In fact whilst he does look like someone who knows what he's doing in the ring, he also looks like someone who lacks real polish. There's a lot to like, but there's a lot of areas where it's clear he needs to tighten things up, and that's both offensive and defensively.
Sadly for Salamov whilst he has got tools to make a mark in the sport, his flaws are the major issue, and against someone as technically well schooled and as smart as Bivol those flaws will be picked apart. Salamov's willingness to fight at range, even with his height and reach, will not serve him well against the crisp, clean, and accurate 1-2's of Bivol, who will use his head for target practice. Salamov's ugly defense leaves him open and Bivol will be able to land time and time again. It will, for all intents, look like Bivol and his team have picked the perfect dance partner.
The real question is "Will Bivol look to score a finish?" Sadly we don't think so, and instead we're expecting a long, dreary, decision win for the frustrating champion.
Prediction - UD12 Bivol
This coming Saturday in California we'll see WBC Bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire (41-6, 27) take on interim champion Reymart Gaballo (24-0, 20) in a mandatory title fight, and a rare all-Filipino world title bout.
The bout isn't the one anyone wanted to see for Donaire, who had been linked to unification bouts against Naoya Inoue and Johnriel Casimero, but it should be a an interesting one, with the bout serving as a chance for Donaire, aged 39, to continue an incredible late career run as a world champion and for Gaballo to announce himself a legitimate world level fighter.
Of the two men the more well known, by far, is Donaire. He's a true future Hall of Famer and a legitimate legend of the sport. His career has seen him win world titles at Flyweight, Bantamweight, Super Bantamweight and Featherweight, before moving back down the weights and picking up Super Bantamweight and Bantamweight titles a second time. Now aged 39 he is the oldest ever Bantamweight world champion, and he is still a devastating fighter. He gave Naoya Inoue his toughest bout, in 2019, and blasted out Nordine Oubaali this past May for the WBC title, proving that even now, at a very advanced age for a Bantamweight, he is still a world class fighter.
In his younger years Donaire was a very sharp boxer-puncher. He was technically solid, without being spectacular, but had lightning speed, amazing timing and fight changing power. His left hook was as potent a weapon as any fighter had in their arsenal. As he moved up the weights and ages, he slowed down, and whilst his power has always been brutal he's adapted his style, allowing him to age remarkably well in the ring. He's no longer a quick, sharp puncher, but instead he's become the sort of Horror Villain, walking opponents down, hunting them and forcing an error for him to counter. He's now using his size, and he is a huge Bantamweight, and experience rather than speed and is a very, very hard man to beat at 118lbs.
Reymart Gaballo on the other hand is someone looking to make an impact, and make up for a very underwhelming performance last time out, when he took a much debated split decision against Emmanuel Rodriguez. The heavy handed Gaballo has looked really good at times, and for much of his career he has looked like a heavy handed, quick, sharp and exciting fighter. He showed what he could do in his US debut, when he beat Stephon Young for the WBA "interim" world title, though sadly he then went on to score some low key wins, rather than build on that one, and it wasn't until last December that he faced another noteworthy fighter, and took that questionable decision over Rodriguez. That bout saw him look limited, tame, and very much like a fighter trying to change his style, right before the biggest fight of his career. In that win he was more patient than ever, but looked like he had lost himself to a change that he didn't fully believe in or truly commit to.
At his best Gaballo looks explosive, hard hitting, and like a man who loves committing to combinations and flurries, with a good sense of flair and excitement. In fact he has a lot of similarities to John Riel Casimero, albeit a much less proven and less impressive Casimero. Sadly though he really didn't fight his usual fighter against Rodriguez, and the likely reason for that is the fact Rodriguez didn't let him. Instead Rodriguez boxed, used his brain, created range and angles and left Gaballo looking lost and confused and really not doing much at all as a result. That bout left us feeling that he was trying to change who he was, and lost what made him who he was. If that's the same here he's going to be in a lot of trouble, especially given that he's not a fighter with particularly good defense.
Gaballo certainly has the potential to be a major player in the division. He has the power, the speed and the explosiveness to be a real danger man. Sadly though where not sure he has the experience, the seasoning or the polish to be that man at the moment. The Rodriguez fight showed a lot of issues with him, and he was lucky that Rodriguez, whilst a very good boxer, is not a puncher. Sadly for Gaballo, Donaire is a puncher, and Donaire won't try to fiddle his way to a victory. Instead he will time Gaballo, lure Gaballo into a mistake and detonate a thunderous left hook. When he does that Gaballo will feel it. He may withstand some, but sooner or later one will land too clean and will drop him. Donaire might not be the fighter he used to be, but he is still a clinical finisher and we can't see him letting Gaballo off the hook when he has him hurt. Especially knowing that Gaballo has so many defensive flaws.
This could be exciting early, but we only see it ending one way. An early win for Donaire.
Prediction - TKO4 Donaire
Through 2021 we've seen numerous mandatory title challengers scoring notable upsets and dethroning champions in some of the biggest shocks of the year. That includes one just a few weeks ago, when George Kambosos beat Teofimo Lopez. This coming Saturday there will be a champion looking to avoid the same fate, as Filipino John Riel Casimero (31-4, 21) looks to defend the WBO Bantamweight title against mandatory challenger Paul Butler (33-2, 15).
On paper it's a match up that looks interesting, with the two men have similar looking records, but in reality most see this as a complete and utter mismatch. That's not just us, but also the bookies, and as we're writing this preview, Casimero is a 1/20 favourite, whilst Butler is best priced at 11/1 to score the upset. They are crazy odds, and suggest that in the eyes of the bookies this is a foregone conclusion, and not a bout that should have been mandated by the WBO. Especially not given that Casimero had been talking about a unification bout with WBC champion Nonito Donaire and WBA/IBF champion Naoya Inoue. Both of which would have been much, much more meaningful for the sport, and the division, than this one.
Casimero is a 3-weight world champion and a man who has finally started to get respect in the last couple of years, is an enigmatic fighter with brutal power, lightning speed, and a wild man man mentality in the ring. He's the sort of fighter who can both amazing, and terrible in the same fight, but does, consistently, get big wins, often as the under-dog and often on the road. In fact Casimero is a true road warrior, who has fought all over the globe, and this coming fight see him a stamp from the United Arab Emirates on his passport. Amazingly it'll be the 11th country that Casimero has fought in, a staggering number for fighter!
In the ring Casimero has always been a crude puncher. He is technically a very flawed fighter, but he's someone who uses his flaws to his advantage. He's hard hitting, he's quick, he throws from very unorthodox angles, he's tough and he's aggressive. He does give opponents chances, but he's also able to punish opponents who try to counter him, due to his speed. Sadly he can blow very hot and cold, as we saw in 2017 when he lost to Jonas, but when he's on song he's a monster and has a resume that most fighters would be very jealous off. In his 31 wins he has victories over Cesar Canchila. Luis Albert Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Amnat Ruenroeng, Charlie Edwards, Zolani Tete and Guillermo Rigondeaux, with all those wins coming on the road.
The challenger to Casimero's throne 33 year old Englishman Paul Butler, who was once tipped as a major star for British boxing but hasn't managed to really shine internationally like many expected. He was, for years, built up as a brilliant, slippery, boxer with a bit of spite by those in the UK. On the domestic scene that has, for the most part, been true. Sadly however when Butler has stepped up he's been found wanting. His most notable win to date came in 2014, when he beat Stuart Hall for the IBF Bantamweight title but he failed to defend the title, vacating it just weeks after winning it to move down in weight, to compete at Super Flyweight. The move proved to be a poor one with Butler being stopped in 8 rounds by Zolani Tete in a bout for the IBF Super Flyweight title, in 2015. He would earn another world title fight in 2018, but miss weight, before then boxing dominated by Emmanuel Rodriguez in a bout for the IBF Bantamweight title.
The problem for Butler has always been a simple one, he's not genuine world class. He's very good, but he lacks solid power, he became very negative and although talented there's too many things missing from his boxing to really be a major star. He's sharp, but he's not a particularly big fighter, and he can become very negative at times. Against world class fighters he has really looked a couple of levels below them, with both Tete and Rodrgiuez beating him with ease. And they beat him at his own game, boxing. Agaunst Casimero he's in there with an unorthodox, power puncher, who doesn't mind making things messy when he needs to, and bully fighters around.
Given Butler's lack of power really don't see how he can win here. He won't get Casimero's respect. He won't make Casimero thing twice, and whilst he might take a few rounds early on, there is a sense of inevitability about this contest. At some point one of Casimero's wild, looping left hooks or even loopier right hands will land hard on Butler. We suspect Butler will get up, one thing we can't question is Butler's heart, but he'll then be a sitting duck with Casimero raining down bombs until Butler's either out on the canvas or the referee is forced to interject.
For Casimero, who was last seen beating Rigondeaux in a stinking bout in August, this is a perfect match up for him. He's in there with a challenger who poses no threat at all, and this is a bout for Casimero to look great in, and restart his verbal jousting with the fellow champions. The same champion he should have been facing instead of Butler.
Prediction TKO4 Casimero
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.