Over the past 12 months we have seen a massive shake up of the Super Featherweight division. Just 10 months ago the divisional champions were Takashi Uchiyama, the then WBA “super” champion, Takashi Miura, the then WBC champion, Roman Martinez, the WBO champion, and Jose Pedraza, the IBF champion. Now, a year on, the champions are very different with the sudden emergence of Jezreel Corrales, who now holds the WBA “super” title, Franisco Vargas, the WBC title hold, Vasyl Lomachenko, the current WBO champion, and the only champion from a year ago is Pedraza, who was lucky not to lose his title in his first defense.
Whilst the title picture has had a shake up we have also seen “secondary” titles change hands or pop up with the WBA having the newly crowned Jason Sosa as their “regular” champion and the WBO having a rare “interim” champion in the form of Miguel Berchelt (29-1, 26), a genuinely exciting Mexican.
Berchelt makes the first defense of his title this coming weekend when he takes on hugely experienced Thai Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (61-2, 41), who is getting his third shot at a “world” title, having lost to Lomachenko and Chris John in title bouts at Featherweight.
Whilst we're not usually a fan of “interim” titles, we will admit we do like it when they throw up bouts like this, one that look good on paper and should be fun when the fighters get in the ring.
For those who haven't seen the champion Berchelt is genuinely fun to watch. He's a little bit crude, a little bit defensively awkward but he's got the gift of power, in both hands. When he turned professional, aged 19, he reeled off stoppages for fun and swiftly moved to 21-0 (18). Those KO's left him feeling like superman and looking like he felt he could just walk through anything. That cost him in 2014, when he was stopped in 99 seconds by fellow puncher Luis Eduardo Florez.
The loss to Florez would have totally derailed lesser fighters but Berchelt has quickly rebuilt his momentum and reeled off 8 straight stoppage wins, including victories over Antonio Escalante, Rene Gonzalez and Sergio Puente, all fringe contenders, as well as George Jupp, who he beat for the interim title earlier this year.
Amazingly he's only 24, he's improving and with his power he's going to be a nightmare for anyone outside of the divisional elite, though he could make for some potential thrillers with the second tier guys in the division.
When it comes to Chonlatarn the first thing that strikes many fans is his impressive record which features more than 60 wins. Like many Thai's however those wins have regularly been over weak opponents and the number of decent names on his record is disappointing. On paper his best wins are two victories over fellow Thai Yoddamrong Sithyodthong, though Yoddamrong was well past his prime by then, a win over Vinvin Rufino and a victory over the under-rated Adones Aguelo. Not exactly outstanding for a man with more than 60 wins.
Whilst his best wins are lacking quality it is fair to say he has fought two tremendous fights in Chris John, who took a clear decision over him on 2012, and Vasyl Lomachneko, who totally schooled him in 2014. Notably those bouts were both at 126lbs, though it seems he feels he has filled out and is now competing at 130lbs, where he has been focusing all year.
Stylistically Chonlatarn is a bit of a one paced, pressure fighter who comes forward slowly and looks to work up close. Against John and Lomachenko that tactic was never going to work due to the huge difference in speed and skill, but against lesser fighters it has worked with Chonlatarn using his weight and strength to great advantage over lesser foes.
Sadly for Chonlatarn we don't think his style or ability bodes well here against a thunderously hard hitting Berchelt, who we suspect will hit him hard and hit him often, eventually forcing a stoppage of the limited but game Thai, likely in the middle rounds of the fight
All too often in boxing we look at the records of fighters and base our opinions on those rather than the abilities or competition of those fighters involved. Sometimes it turns out to be a fair way to judge fighters ahead of a bout, especially when they have been competing at a similar level. Often however the numbers turn out not to be relatively of someones ability and in fact we often see that the more padded a record the less capable a fighter really is.
The debate about "quality versus quality" when it comes to experience is something that we know fans are split over with the western system often favour quantity of bouts over quality of bouts. Every so often however someone bucks the trend and is fast tracked. One such fighter is current WBO Featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (2-1, 1) who really is one of the most sensational fighters in the sport today. On paper Lomachenko's record is a stark contrast to his upcoming challenger, Thailand's Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (52-1, 33), and if we judged fights just from records this would be a mismatch in favour of the Thai. In reality however the men are in completely different leagues with Lomachenko being a truly elite talent whilst Chonlatarn is little more than a continental level fighter with a heavily boosted record.
For those who have followed Lomachenko over the years you will be fully aware that he has some of the most impressive amateur credentials in history, in fact some have described him as the greatest amateur boxer not just of his era but of all time. That assessment is fair and also exposes the idea that he is a "novice". As an amateur he fought almost 400 contests whilst picking up 2 Olympic gold medals, 3 world amateur championship gold medals, and a silver, and was among the most celebrated amateurs in history.
As a professional Lomachenko maintained the same attitude as he had when he was a amateur. He wants to fight the best, fight in and fight out. And the best thing about it is he has the self belief to do just that and seems unwilling to just pad his professional ledger with mismatches and pointless wins that serve little to no purpose. Of course this comes with a serious risk, as he saw in his second bout when he was narrowly out pointed by Orlando Salido in a WBO Featherweight title fight that saw Salido fail weight and land numerous low blows, however it comes with great reward as seen when he tied a world record for fewest fights to win a world title in his third bout, tying the long standing record of Thailand's Saensak Muangsurin.
Although Lomachenko has maintained much of his amateur style he always seemed to have a very professional looking amateur style. He fought behind a high guard, moving in and out swiftly, landing sharp and accurate shots and making his opponent miss. There hasn't been a huge amount of transitioning but thee hasn't needed to be and like the great Muay Thai guys who moved from Muay Thai to boxing with great success he's managed to use what he had practiced prior to becoming a professional boxer.
Despite only having fought thrice as a professional Lomachenko's opponents had a combined record of 99 wins, 15 losses, 2 draws and 1 no contest. That is unheard of though shows his belief and ability.
Whilst Lomachenko has been fast tracked in the extreme Chonlatarn has fought on the now typical Thai trajectory towards a world title. The Thai has been a pro since 2003 and has fought regularly though often against over-matched and under-skilled foes. With around 5 fights a year he has been very active by today's standards though only a handful of those bouts have been notable with the first of those being a 2006 encounter with former world champion Yoddamrong Sithyodthong. Sadly those notable bouts have been few and far between with 2 of them coming against Yoddamrong and a third, his only world title bout so far, against Chris John.
It was against John that we saw Chonlatarn step up to real world level for the first time and it was also when we saw his record, which was then 44-0 (27), wasn't indicative of his talent. The Thai showed the typical gameness and desire of most Thai fighters but he showed a lack of development, skills that were very under-whelming for such a "veteran" and highly questionable stamina as he was out worked and out boxed by the then 33 year old John. Aged 27 when he fought John we has expected so much more from the Thai and were left feeling very under-whelmed in a bout between two long unbeaten streaks.
Since the loss to John in 2012 we've seen the Thai continue on a similar career path to the one he was one prior to the John fight. He went back to the Thai scene packing up wins, 7 of them, against limited and over-matched foes whilst claimign regional titles in the form of the WBO Asia Pacific and PABA Featherweight belts. Those belts, which are often won by Thai's with incredibly long records, are geared towards gaining world rankings and playing the political games that the world bodies love to see fighters play. Unfortunately they also lead to mismatches, both on the "coming up stage" and in the eventual world title bout.
Going into this bout, a mandatory for Lomachenko, we can't see anything but an easy win for the very developed and amazingly talented champion who we suspect will give Chonlatarn a real boxing lesson before closing the show against a tired challenger in the second half of the contest. Essentially it is mandatory but will appear to be a showcase for the Ukrainian who will be looking for unification bouts in 2015. It may seem strange but we really suspect that Lomachenko has rushed his mandatory to get the fight out of the way and open the door to mega fights in 2015 without any other commitments for the year.
(Image courtesy of our friends at Thairec.com)
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.