Throughout the history of our great sport, the Flyweight division has given his a host of legendary names. The likes of Jimmy Wilde, Pancho Villa, Fidel LaBarba, Midget Wolgast, Benny Lynch, Fighting Harada, Pone Kingpetch, Masao Oba, Miguel Canto, Yuri Arbachakov, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Nonito Donaire, Omar Andres Narvaez and Roman Gonzalez, to name just a few, have etched their names in the annals of the sports all time legends.
Today it's hard to look at the Flyweight division and know which fighter will be the next to add their name among the divisional greats, though a number of fighters certainly seem capable of becoming divisional greats. One such fighter is current WBO champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17), who returns to the ring this coming weekend in pursuit of his second defense of the title, as he takes on Ryota Yamauchi (8-1, 7).
Although a long, long, long way from establishing himself as a legend, the 24 year Nakatani old certainly has the tools and time to make a huge mark on the sport. Despite that he has already made a name for himself as one of the best in the division today, and has down so by gradually building his reputation, rather than being moved rapidly through the ranks like many top current Japanese fighters. He debuted in 2015, aged just 17 and first began to make a name for himself the following year, when he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating future world champion Masamichi Yabuki in the final. In the years that followed he continued to progress, develop, mature and improve, whilst moving towards more notable fights. Along the way he won the Japanese Youth and Japanese national Flyweight titles, as well as scoring a very notable TKO win over Milan Melindo, and in 2020 he finally got a shot at a world title. In that bout he faced off against talented Filipino Giemel Magramo, in what looked like a 50-50 style fight. Despite being well matched on paper Nakatani dominated the contest with a real break out performance, stopping Magramo in 8 rounds, whilst dominating him on both the outside and the inside. Since that win he has defended the belt once, stopping Angel Acosta in his US debut last year in 4 rounds, in a bloody contest that saw Acosta being left a bloodied mess.
In the ring Nakatani is huge for a Flyweight, he's tall, rangy and looks like his body hasn't really started to fill out properly yet. In all honesty he seems like he could end up as high as Super Bantamweight, or even Featherweight, by the time his career is over. Whilst he has shown he can use his size well, with an excellent jab, great straight punches and intelligent hooks, he has also shown he can fight on the inside and be a dog when he needs to be, as seen in his wins over Seigo Yuri Akui, Magramo and Acosta, among others. Aged 24 he is still maturing, still improving, and is already a scary fighter for the other fighters in the Flyweight division, as he seems capable of doing almost everything, and doing it whilst in control of the action. Like all great fighters he switches between head and body at will, controls the tempo of the bout, and can change tactics as and when needed. Although maybe not as slick as IBF champion Sunny Edwards, or as aggressive as WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez, he is arguably the most rounded fighter in the division, and a genuine nightmare for anyone at 112lbs.
Whilst Nakatani has been taken from relative obscurity to world champion by the MT gym, his challenger was something of a notable amateur who has been moved very aggressively by his team, the Kadoebi Boxing Gym. As an amateur Yamauchi went 38-15 (14) in the tough Japanese domestic amateur scene. Despite not having a stellar record, his style was more suited to the professional ranks, and that was seen almost straight away with his aggression and power shots breaking down Lester Abutan and Yota Hori in his second and third professional bouts. In just his fifth professional bout he travelled over to China and faced off with the then world ranked Wulan Tuolehazi, and lost a very competitive bout that saw a bit of home cooking from the 3 "wise men". That bout saw both men being dropped, and was a genuinely brilliant 12 rounder which allowed Yamauchi to prove his stamina, heart, desire and overall ability, even in hostile territory. Since that loss he has gotten back to winning ways, and scored a number of decent wins over the likes of Alphoe Dagayloan, Satoru Todaka and Yuta Nakayama, whilst winning and defending the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title.
Aged 27 Yamauchi is now in his physical prim, he looks mature, strong and powerful, and a lot of his style is based on his physicality and aggression. He has solid foundations from his amateur days, a nice jab, good variety in his shots, and applies constant pressure behind his jab and footwork. Although he does have a great jab, he uses it more to force opponents backwards, and to get inside, where he can go to work, rather than boxing and moving on the backfoot. His shots are heavy, damaging and when he unleashes on the inside he looks genuinely brutal, especially with his left hands to the midsection. At range he has struggled in the past, and against Tuolehazi, the Chinese fighter caught him time and time again with counter left hands, but he has improved since then and is certainly more defensively aware than he used to be. Worryingly for Yamauchi is the fact he's really jumping up in class here. Wins over the likes of Dagayloan and Nakayama are decent, but do not prepare a fighter to face someone who is genuinely world class. Another thing Yamauchi is missing is rounds. he does have a 12 round bout and an 8 rounder under his belt, but on average his bouts have gone just 5 rounds, and he's only gone beyond 6 a total of 3 times.
Having watched both men through their careers so far, we've been fans of both. We've loved watching Nakatani develop in front of our eyes, from a teenager to a national and then world champion, and his development has shown that fighters should take regular steps up in class, and be allowed to show what they are capable of against good fighter. We've also loved to see Yamauchi being moved aggressively and treat like a special fighter in the making. We've also been able to see bother fighters develop their styles and their in ring behaviour. Sadly for Yamauchi however, it does feel like this step up is a significant one, and that his strengths don't play into the very few weaknesses of Nakatani, who has a better jab and is cleaner and more varied on the inside. Yamauchi will certainly have moments, but we feel a lot of his work will come back with interest.
Despite feeling confident Nakatani will have too much, both inside and outside, we do expect this to be fought, mostly, up close, with the two men trading shots, making for a thrilling action bout, until Yamauchi finally has his resistance broken in the second half of the fight. He will give it his all, but eventually have to go out on his shield, having played his part in something of a special and all action bout. We wouldn't be surprised to see Nakatani being once or twice, Yamauchi to be dropped, at least once, and a lot of heavy power shots being thrown in a bout that could over-shadow the huge Middleweight bout between Gennady Golovkin and Ryota Murata, which headlines the card this is on.
Prediction - TKO9 Nakatani
On March 19th we'll see the second defense of the IBF Flyweight title by slippery unbeaten English fighter Sunny Edwards (17-0, 4) as he takes on Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem (12-1, 8) in Dubai, in a very interesting looking bout which could see Edwards stamp his claim as one of the best in the division, or could see Waseem put Pakistan on the boxing map and become the first world champion from the South Asian country, finally living up to the promise he showed at the start of his professional career. The bout is a must win for both men, and is one where the skills of the two men, should make for a genuinely excellent bout, though sadly it may well be coming whilst the two are at very different points of their careers.
The ?? year old Edwards is one of the most under-rated fighters in the sport today, and for much of the early portion of his career he was over-shadowed by brother Charlie Edwards, a former WBC Flyweight champion, who was regarded by many as the better fighter. Today however it appears that the more slippery Sunny is the better boxer of the two brothers. His career started slowly, tucked away on Fran Warren shows, mostly against domestic competition, but in 2021 he broke out in a huge way, as he comfortably out boxed wily old veteran Moruti Mthalane to claim the IBF title. That win was a huge one for the division, and although it was a stylitically easy one for the fleet footed Edwars, it was an impressive show case of his concentration, stamina, focus and speed, as he preverented Mthalane from closing the distance and neutralised the South African's pressure round after round. Since winning the title he has defended the belt once, beating Filipino Jayson Mama, with a wide decision back in December.
Edwards is a wonderfully skilled technical boxer, arguably one of the best in and around the lower weights. He's fleet footed, slippery as an eel and has impressive handspeed, timing, and understanding of range. Sadly for him he does lack power, stoppages are incredibly rare during his career, and whilst he lands plenty he can't regularly make opponents back away, despite consistently landing clean blow. Whilst he does land clean on a consistent basis, opponents don't. In fact opponents regularly fall short, or at best land on arms, and are often beaten mentally just as much as physically. Although he hasn't been tagged regularly through his career, there is some positives for his opponents, as we have seen him dropped before, and we've also seen him pick up injuries in fights, and in fact he struggled in one or two bouts at domestic level, something the other top Flyweights will see as a chink in his armour. Notable his lack of power will also see the other top Flyweight look to take extra risks, to drag him into a fire fight, something that the likes of Ricardo Sandoval, Seigo Yuri Akui and Julio Cesar Martinez would feel comfortable in doing.
Whilst the 26 year old champion is coming in to his prime the challenge is certainly not, in fact at 34 years old Waseem would become one of the oldest men to win a Flyweight title were he to pick up the upset win here. Sadly for him his career has been a hugely frustrating one since turning professional in 2015, in South Korea. It has been a career that has seen funds being promised but not deliver, and has seen stretches of inactivity, and really not gone the way he, and those that have worked with him, would have hoped. He began his career in a 10 round title bout, scored a very notable win just 13 months later, beating Giemel Magramo and then things really ground to a halt with 3 meaningless wins in Panama before he got a shot Moruti Mthalane for the IBF title in 2018. That bout showed what Waseem could do, as he lost a razor thin decision against the brilliant South African, but since then he has fought just 4 times, and struggled to get a major fight during that time, and has looked somewhat demotivated by the sport at times, notably against Ganigan Lopez.
At his best Waseem was a brilliant boxer-puncher, who took a wealth of amateur experience to the professional ranks, and looked like someone who was going to be a star for Pakistani boxing. His early work with Korean promoter Andy Kim seemed to have him on the fast track to the top, but a lack of financial backing slowed that rise, drastically. Now a days it does seem like some of his sharpness has faded with time and he's not as quick, explosive, or sharp as he once was. He's still very capable, but he doesn't look the same fighter that had excited us early in his career, and had come so close to stopping Mthalane in 2018. In fact he now looks some what over-patient, in recent bouts, and whilst technically excellent, there is a lack of fire in some of his performance and we're only seeing glimpses of how good he was, just a few short years ago.
We'll be honest, we would love Waseem to win, putting Pakistan on the boxing map, giving the country it's first world champion, and helping potentially ignite a love of boxing in a country that is cricket mad. A prime Waseem could well have managed that, with his pressure, physicality, and power. With a 34 year old Waseem however the difference between the two men will be foot speed, with Edwards being too light on his feet, too quick with his hands and too slippery. Waseem will commit to coming forward, applying pressure, but much like Edwards' win over Mthalane, we see father time playing a notable role in this bout, and the stylistic strength of Edwards being too much for Waseem to over-come.
Prediction - UD12 Edwards
This coming weekend we get back to back nights with world title bouts in the Flyweight division. On Friday we'll see WBO champion Junto Nakatani defending his title against Angel Acosta and a night later it'll IBF champion Sunny Edwards (16-0, 4) defending against Filipino challenger Jayson Mama (16-0, 9), in what could be a huge weekend for the 112lb division. Of the two bouts the the Nakatani Vs Acosta is likely to be more explosive, however Edwards Vs Mama is likely to be a very, very interesting technical bout. Maybe not the most fun to watch as a casual, but a very interesting one all the same.
Of the two men involved in that IBF title bout it's the outspoken Edwards who is the more well known. He's a fighter who has enjoyed using social media, often to troll those that dislike him, but he's also backed up his words in the ring. The unbeaten 25 year old, who's brother Charlie Edwards is a former WBC champion, made his debut in 2016 and and gradually moved through the ranks by beating domestic and European competition. Earlier this year he proved how good he was with a fantastic performance to dethrone Moruti Mthlane with a clear decision win over the South African great. That win saw him net the IBF which he will be defending here.
In the ring Edwards is a pure boxer. He loves to use the whole ring, skirting around it when he needs to. He has fast feet, fast hands and uses his speed well. He sadly lacks power, and unlike most Flyweight he doesn't look for a fight, instead he looks to box, draw mistakes and make opponents pay for them. A genuine technician. Sadly for him his lack of power, and to some extend lack of out put, will likely be an issue against the top fighters in the division, such as Junto Nakatani, Julio Cesar Martinez and Ricardo Rafael Sandoval, but against the rest he likely has the boxing tools to take decisions over almost anyone else. Of course if a fighter can cut the ring off and make it into a fight then they have a real chance to get to him, break him down, take his legs away and take victory. But that's not an easy task, and Mthalane never came close to managing it in their bout.
Interestingly Mama was actually supposed to face Mthalane last year in South Africa, in a bout that was scrapped at the 11th hour after the authorities refused to let the bout take place on the grounds of the event not being covid safe. It was a huge hit for Mama's career, given he had travelled to South Africa at the time, and then he ended up seeing Edwards getting the chance he was supposed to have. With that in mind we are expecting the Filipino to be really up for this opportunity, which is a step up in class for him anyway.
The 24 year old "Smasher" made his debut in 2016 and like many Filipino's began his career against novices and very limited opponents, such as Bimbo Nacionales and Rodel Tejares. In 2019 he stepped up big time, and beat Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Kwanthai Sithmorseng, but like many fighters his momentum was stopped dead in 2020, not just due to the issues with the Mthalane fight but a general lack of activity. He managed to fight in February 2020 and wasn't in the ring again until April 2021, losing all his momentum.
In the ring Mama is a confident boxer, who comes forward, feels comfortable in his power, speed and skills, but looks very much a fighter who's not got that special something needed to win a world title. He's competent, he's skilled, he's relaxed in the ring, with decent speed, but there's nothing that really stands out about him. Sadly he lacks fight changing power, his footwork is very much deliberate and he relies a lot on upper body movement to avoid shots. Sadly for him, in regards to this bout, is not just his slow footwork, which will see him following and chasing Edwards, but also his low out put which will potentially see him struggling to make the most of any opportunities he does create.
Whilst we're not sure how Edwards would fair against the best in the division, such as the other champions, we really don't see how he loses here. We see him out boxing, out moving, out speeding, and out slicking Mama. Mama will have the odd moment here and there, but he'll struggle to tie down Edwards and have any sort of sustained success. In the end we're expecting a very wide decision win for Edwards.
Prediction - UD12 Edwards
On September 10th we'll see WBO Flyweight champion Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16) return to the ring for his first defense, as he takes on Puerto Rican puncher Angel Acosta (22-2, 21) in Tucson, Arizona. The bout will not just serve as Nakatani's first world title defense but will also be his international debut, coming on the same show as Oscar Valdez's bout with Robson Conceicao, and a huge chance for him to show the world exactly what he can do. The bout is a really interesting one, and one that could help Nakatani make a major statement in the sport, or could see Acosta become a 2-weight world champion, with Acosta having previously held the WBO Light Flyweight title.
For those who haven't seen these two men before, or maybe have little interest in watching the little guys unless they are on a card like this, it's worth taking a look at who the two men are, how they fight, and what sort of fighters they are.
Stood at 5'7", and aged just 23, Nakatani is a long, rangy, tall Flyweight. In fact he's among the tallest and longest fighters in the division right now and he certainly has the frame to allow him to move up through the weights. In fact it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fighting as a Featherweight when he matures. He's a youngster who has come through the tough Japanese domestic scene, winning Rookie of the Year in 2016, beating the now world ranked Masamichi Yabuki in the final, before going on to beat the likes of Seigo Yuri Akui, Dexter Alimento and Shun Kosaka before winning the Japanese national title in 2019. Following his title win he has gone on to some solid fighters, including Milan Melindo and Giemel Magramo, who he stopped for the title last November.
Given his physical dimensions it should be no surprise to learn that Nakatani has an excellent jab, and his ability to box and move is fantastic. He mas managed to use his jab as a dominant tool in the past and he really took Milan Melindo apart with it. It's a table setter for him, along with a razor guided straight right hand, and with his good footwork it's a punch that can really control the range and tempo of a bout. Unlike many tall fighters however Nakatani isn't afraid of fighting on the inside when he needs to and has proven to be a fantastic up close, with his body shots in particular being deadly. We suspect he'll have to show that side of his boxing here, but will bee putting himself in harms way to do so. Defensively there is work to be done for Nakatani, but he's certainly not the easiest of guys to hit clean, especially not at range and when he has been tagged he's not looked particularly phased or troubled by anything. And that included going to war with Akui, a huge puncher.
Aged 30 Acosta is a veteran of the sport, and was a notable amateur before turning professional in 2012. Due to his amateur pedigree he was moved into 6 rounders early on, though he rarely needed rounds and stopped his first 16 opponents, including notable fighters like Luis Ceja, Victor Ruiz and Japhet Uutoni, who he beat in a world title eliminator. His winning run came to an end in 2017 when he clashed with Kosei Tanaka, who took a well earned decision over Acosta in a very good fight for the WBO Light Flyweight title. Despite losing to Tanaka we saw Acosta get a second shot at the title when Tanaka moved up to Flyweight and he took that chance, stopping Juan Alejo on the under-card of Miguel Cotto Vs Sadam Ali, and he went on to defend it 3 times, including bouts on DAZN, before losing in controversial fashion to Elwin Soto in 2019. There had been talks of a rematch but Acosta decided to move up in weight and quickly became the mandatory for the WBO Flyweight title, though sadly due to the Covid situation he was forced to wait for his shot, which comes here against Nakatani.
In the ring Acosta is is a heavy handed and aggressive fighter who's busy in the ring, throws plenty of leather but does so with intelligence. He's not a wild, reckless fighter but an intelligent and smart puncher. He mixes his shots up well, he throws solid combinations and is light on his feet. Although his record suggests he's a brutal puncher he isn't. He is however a very solid puncher, who lands a lot and breaks opponents down, and has fantastic finishing instincts. In recent bouts he has started to get more rounds than he did earlier in his career, and can certainly go rounds without any issues, which is always something that's important for a puncher. Notably he's not the hardest man to hit, and he does get sloppy when letting combinations go, but he has the power to make opponents think twice and not take too many risks against him.
We expect this to be a tense bout early on. Nakatani will want to feel out Acosta, see how hard he really hits, and whether Acosta's power really carries up to Flyweight. He'll also want to get the feel for fighting in front of an American crowd. For the first few rounds we expect to see Nakatani playing very safe, using his reach and heigh, and letting Acosta chase him, and do the heavy lifting. As the bout goes on and as Nakatani begins to feel more comfortable we expect this to grow into an inside battle, with the two men taking turns to let shots go up close. When that happens the natural size and youthfulness of Nakatani will begin to dominate and he will begin to grind down the challenger.
We suspect Acosta will give a great account, but will end up being stopped in the later rounds as the pressure and work rate of Nakatani gets too much, and he beats the fight out of the Puerto Rican.
Prediction - TKO10 Nakatani
To kick off the month of September we'll see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) make a third successive mandatory defense of his title, as he takes on Mexican warrior Francisco Rodriguez Jr (34-4-1, 24), in a mouth watering bout that is sadly going under-the-radar. And will sadly be held in front of an empty arena as the affects of Covid19 on Japanese sport continues to take it's toll. On paper the bout is a genuinely excellent one between one of the sports most talented boxers and a thrilling all action warrior, and the styles of the two fighters should gel to provide us with a sensational bout.
For those who have lived under a rock for the last 10 years we do perhaps need to talk about just how good Kazuto Ioka is, and also what's been going on in his life in the last few months.
The highly skilled man from Osaka had boxing in his blood, with his uncle being a multi-time world champion and his father also being a professional fighter. When he made his professional debut, aged 20, he was put on the fast tracked and groomed for success, something that came incredibly quickly. Within 18 months of his debut he beat Masayoshi Segawa to claim the Japanese title at 108lbs. Just a few months later he went on to stop Thailand Oleydong Sithsamerchai, who was then 35-0-1, to claim the WBC Minimumweight title. Soon afterwards Ioka unified the WBC and WBA titles, beating Akira Yaegashi, before moving up the weights and winning titles at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and most recently Super Flyweight. Along the way he has beaten a real who's who of the lower weights, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo and mostly recently Kosei Tanaka. Were it not for Naoya Inoue, and his incredible career, Ioka would be regarded as the king of Japanese right now. Instead he's playing the role of backing singer to The Monster, but wants to change that with bouts against some of the top guys in the sport.
Sadly since beating Kosei Tanaka at the end of 2020 Ioka has been embroiled in a feud with the JBC, who leaked details of a failed drug test. A drug test that suggest Ioka had taken multiple banned substances including marijuana, an illegal drug in Japan. Ioka was later cleared, complete, with revelations that the testing had not followed normal protocol, and was likely tainted and damaged by the fact his sample wasn't frozen and hadn't been kept properly. Later leading the JBC to clear him, and take responsibility. That however will be a very notable sub-story coming into this bout, and there will be a lot of questions about how that may effect Ioka ahead of this bout, his first since that saga.
In the ring Ioka is one of the best fighters on the planet, and deserves a high pound for pound ranking, though maybe just misses out on a top 10 slot. The talented Japanese boxer is a fantastic body puncher, a very intelligent fighter, with good ring craft, and a very versatile tool set. We've seen him box, we've seen him play counter puncher, we've seen him pressure and we've even seen him play the role of a puncher over the years. Again Tanaka he played the role very good counter puncher, neutralising the speed of Tanaka well with his timing and just a fight earlier he pressured Jeyvier Cintron, and used his body shots to neutralise a much bigger, faster man. There are holes in Ioka's game, but they are few and far between, and with Ismael Salas acting as his trainer, a lot of the focus is on understanding his opponent, and building a game plan to beat them. That really is Ioka's biggest strength, his adaptability, and the fact he can be an enigma when he needs to be.
Whilst Ioka is a major player in the sport the same can't be said of Rodriguez, though it did once seem like he was well on his way to being a true star of the lower weights. Like many Mexican fighters he started young, debuting in 2010 at the age if 18, and he reeled off 8 straight wins, 7 by stoppage, to begin his career. In 2012 he suffered his first loss but bounced back quickly and was 14-1 (12) when he got his first real bout of note, against a then 35-0 Roman Gonzalez. Rodriguez put up a fine effort, but was stopped in 7 rounds by Gonzalez. For a young fighter to have given his all against Gonzalez, in Nicaragua no less, this was a loss that showed what Rodriguez had to offer the sport and just 6 months later he went on to stopped WBO Minimumweight champion Merlito Sabillo to claim his first world title. Just 5 months later he went on to defeat Katsunari Takayama in arguably the best fight of 2014, to unify the WBO and IBF titles. At that point in time he looked like one of the hottest young things in world boxing but sadly a move up in weight saw his career hit a snag, suffering an unexpected draw to Jomar Fajardo, and losses to Donnie Nietes and Moises Fuentes. That left him desperately needing to rebuild. And rebuild he has! In fact he's won his last 15 bouts, with 11 stoppages, beating the likes of Ramon Garcia Hirales, Yohei Tobe, Hernan Marquez, Oswaldo Novoa and Martin Tecuapetla during that run.
In the ring Rodriguez isn't a smart fighter. He's not an intelligent boxer, or a crafty counter puncher. Instead he's a pretty intense, in your face, aggressive warrior, coming to have a fight. Although not a huge puncher in terms of 1-shot power, Rodriguez is a brute, his pressure, work rate and tenacity often being too much for opponents Watching him we see a fighter who isn't technical, he isn't accurate, and he's not the most natural of boxers. But he is a fighter, who lets combinations go, uses head movement and does a very under-rated jab, which he uses well to dictate moments. At his best however he's a warrior on the inside, through uppercuts, hooks and switching his attack between head and body. He's developed more as a boxer, rather than a bully, over the years, but is still at his best as a bully with grinding pressure.
Whilst Rodriguez has tried boxing more in recent years we don't see him applying that approach here. He would come off second best for almost every second of every round. Boxing a master boxer like Ioka is not a good idea, unless you are also a master technician. Instead we expect to see Rodriguez trying to apply pressure, and make this a tear up on the inside. Although it's not in Ioka's best interest to fight that type of fight, we do expect the Japanese star to hold his feet a lot and make this into a tear up for the TV viewers.
Sadly with no fans in attendance we don't expect this to feel like a world title fight, but we do imagine a lot of excitement, and it'll be a fight we wish had fans in the venue.
After 12 rounds we're expecting a wide and clear win for Ioka, though we do expect him to have a lot of questions asked of him, and for Rodriguez to show no quit at all. The Mexican will be there from the opening bell to the final seconds, and he'll be putting in an honest shift, but coming up short.
Prediction - UD12 Ioka
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
A rarity here at Asian boxing as we have a guest writer previewing a bout, and for that we want to say thanks to our good friend Troy for penning this brilliant preview of the up coming Junto Nakatani Vs Giemel Magramo bout, which will take place on November 6th at Korakuen Hall and be shown live on BS NTV and G+.
By Troy Parslow
Old fashioned fine tuning and the quick study:
Redefining the cult, the boxing fan knows plenty of opinion, incredulity, hubris and that loyal grip we close around those trusted fighters. An illusion of discovery tends to feed our particular vices, so perhaps that’s where I find myself when I tell you, in this year of on-again, off-again uncertainty, there isn't a fight I've been anticipating more than Giemel Magramo versus Junto Nakatani.
If the conversation on flyweights due more attention starts with South Africa's Moruti Mthalane, it's with 26 year old Giemel Magramo I might try to end it.
Magramo (24-1, 20) of Paranaque City, Philippines, has the ‘Skull and Bones Family’ heritage of his father, and Manny Pacquiao rival of ten rounds, Melvin, and a host of uncles (Alvin, Ronnie, Ric and Ric Jr) with storied careers. He has the notable form of a sole loss--separated only from a majority draw by a point deducted for an accidental butt--travelling to South Korea to fight their then adopted Muhammad Waseem and a ten round stoppage win, travelling this time to China for their own Wenfeng Ge. But beyond an inherent, steely resolve--the Magramo legacy--or his resume's story, this Magramo is a talent above the rest. This birthright of insatiable aggression can be to the detriment of his performance, still he bears this inconsistency well; with the temperament to reset and refocus, he joins sporadic reckless abandon with an application of genuine pressure fighting skills in a can't-miss combination. By virtue of a father's guidance and slow burn matchmaking, they've nuanced their pressure fighting essence--upper body deception, and technique to manipulate the in-fight into the bargain.
For all he's inherited, 'Pistolero' seeks a family first major championship belt when he fights Japan's 5”7½ southpaw Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15), November 6th, at Tokyo's Korakuen Hall, to fill Kosei Tanaka's WBO flyweight void.
Short of a lower-weight personage—a rare few—himself, recognition is still easier come by for one of boxing’s disciples of a Monster. And it's nothing Nakatani, Kanagawa, hasn't earned. Between his bridging of bulldog to versatile blue-chipper, and frequent US sparring excursions, a readiness to expedite the learning process and realize ambitions unfolding come off him in waves. For my money, among the most rapidly maturing fighters in the sport, it comes as no surprise he’s jumping at a first title opportunity. After all, what’s a championship fight at 22 and 20 fights to the man, then boy, who risked his unblemished rise in harum-scarum shoot-outs with punchers Masamichi Yabuki and Seigo Yuri Akui? He’s since come of age, harnessing leviathan wingspan and spit-shining a tenacity to fight inside that gift of length. Ready as ever, he forged ahead, turning away Mario Andrade, Naoki Mochizuki and Milan Melindo, amongst others.
Is this a fight, then, for old fashioned fine tuning or a quick study?
To understand a Magramo is to expect aggression, and Giemel is good for it. But his ability to weaponise said aggression, and pressure, effectively will come under more scrutiny than ever. At his best, he's moving forward with a proactive upper body movement: shifting his weight over his front foot, rolling his shoulders from side-to-side, drawing leads and making himself difficult to read and counter when he's throwing from different positions. Slipping and countering, he establishes a threat for his level changes and feints at the shoulder. Against China's Ge, Magramo applied this upper body movement busily in the opening rounds, punching at different angles and exploring his timing to help determine the distance and Ge's responses. A probing, sometimes pawing, lead hand often supplements the upper body in gauging distance and triggering a lead he intends to pick off. You'll see Magramo throwing his jab from any shape, and if he's not baiting, he'll use it to disrupt rhythm or break his own: doubling and tripling up (stutter stepping as he goes) and feinting in combination with the right hand or leading with a reverse 1-2. When he has momentum, he'll pick his opponents head up with it and push them back off-balance. Maintaining his own base and shape, of course, is also important for someone looking to push forward consistently and as a rule he is well-balanced, allowing him to slip and counter as he moves in inside or bounces back out.
By no means perfect in his pressure, Magramo isn't the best at cutting off the ring, with opponents often escaping and circling out to their right as he squares up on rear hands or in anticipation of an exchange at short range. This is only compounded when he's already leaning forward (weight over his front foot) and falls in, short of the target and available to be countered out of shape. In this position Magramo will often attempt to restore his balance with a jab, get low and initiate a clinch, or just embrace an exchange. By keeping his front foot in step with his opponent, however, and on-balance to counter off the upper body movement and feints, he closes distance well and can stay in front of his opponent with enough regularity to drive the action and push a pace. It's worth mentioning here how efficiently Magramo passed Michael Bravo's southpaw lead, changing his rhythm, leading with delayed right hands, pawing with his jab and slipping inside at every opportunity.
Taking away Michael Bravo's jab early enough to finish him inside eight rounds is encouraging, but eluding Junto Nakatani's is a different challenge altogether and similarities between the two opponents end not long after acknowledging they share a long southpaw stance. As busy as it is versatile, Nakatani establishes his jab early and sets about conditioning his opponent with his lead hand, adding layers as he goes. Probing and feinting from the get go, he doesn't waste time before he's stepping in, working his man up and down and occupying the opposite guard or lead hand (in a southpaw-orthodox clash, such as we have here)as he lines up a back hand. Taller than all of his opponents at flyweight, he has certain advantages gaining dominant lead hand position and jabbing over orthodox opponents, but in altering the path of his jab over and under an opponent's lead hand, as well as jabbing from different looks and adding foot feints, the timing and positioning of his jab is seldom predictable. Magramo can't, and generally wouldn't, wait for Nakatani to get lazy or fall into a predictable rhythm with his lead hand, so it's on him to draw on the success Naoki Mochizuki had provoking Nakatani's jab with upper body movement and level changes, as a means of slipping and countering his way inside.
True to 'Skull and Bones' form, Magramo is most at home harrying in the pocket. If he can manage the distance, it's inside the jab he's best equipped to take the fight to Nakatani. Here 'Pistolero' looks to instinct, and he counters readily with an innate punch anticipation and reflexes. Catching, parrying, rolling and then countering, he's unforgiving and stylish. On the inside, he typically likes to get low and work up from shovels hooks to the body. For the Nakatani fight, Magramo will likely try to use this low starting position to work under the larger frame, pushing his head into Nakatani's shoulder, comprimising his balance and forcing him upright—something Mochizuki was also able to achieve. Magramo doesn't hesitate in using a shoulder or forearm to set up his offense, or lean on an opponent's shoulder, arching his back, to make room to work the body, and he can exploit the taller man throwing in combination off of his weaving transitions more if he works him into an upright position.
Of course, if you're familiar with Nakatani, you'll know it's not as simple as slipping his jab and dominating the fight. Nakatani, too, is very capable an inside fighter, exceptional for his height and length and he works that large frame underneath shorter opponents with ease. He can't boast some of the acute reflexes of Magramo, but he can control the space, he's strong and he works his arms inside his opponents more regularly, which he'll use to walk them back to the ropes or turn them. Positioning his own head onto a shoulder, and shifting it each side in anticipation or reaction to opposition success, he creates space similarly moving his man around with a shoulder or forearm. More importantly for this fight, though, can be Nakatani's ability to counter off of step backs and punching on the break. A combination of Magramo leaning heavily onto an opponents shoulder, and his neglecting the use of his arms to control them, can leave him unbalanced and available to be countered if an opponent slides on their back foot and simply creates separation stepping back.
Nakatani will be forced to hold his own on the inside routinely, but stepping to Magramo and applying his own pressure might not be to his benefit here. If we learned anything from the rout of Melindo, it'd be that despite his willingness to drive the exchanges, a probing lead hand constant and every physical advantage, controlling range on the front foot doesn't always look like one of his stronger impulses, and his balance suffered for it. Attempting to mirroring his opponents footwork in the early going and losing his shape, he was forced to reset on a few occasions as Melindo escaped relatively unpunished from positions you might expect the opposite. Melindo himself, perhaps, should have penalised these missteps more readily and pulled the trigger upon pivoting into space and finding new angles--you should know Magramo will.
It's at range Nakatani has shown some of his keener footwork: stepping out and to his left against Mochizuki, he was able to creep out of range, manipulate the distance and cause him to reach for counters and fall in. Similar can be said when he's stepping back to counter, and he finds some of his most dominant angles at the end of a jab. I thought he was more effective, or at least consistent, setting traps for Melindo, timing him and scoring off half-steps and step backs as Melindo tried breach the distance. Not only central to disrupting the Magramo rhythm and pressure though, with more space Nakatani's lead can get to work setting up long combinations, where he finishes with wide, arching hooks and uppercuts around and under a guard the jab (and sequent left hands) will narrow.
A great example of the utility of Nakatani's lead hand, and a useful approach to exploiting length in a Magramo fight can be seen in the first 20 second of his fifth round against Mochizuki: circling to his left and jabbing twice at the guard he conditions Mochizuki to expect a third but instantly breaks his rhythm, stepping back around to his right and hooking off the jab; his next jab is feinted, Mochizuki dips to move in underneath but Nakatani anticipates, pushes a couple more jabs at his guard and forces him to reset; stepping back once this time, Nakatani then shifts his weight onto his front foot as if to step in with a jab, Mochizuki bites again and shoots his own over the top, only to be met with a lead hand uppercut as Nakatani slides on his back foot; tying the sequence up, Nakatani bends at the waist, initiates a clinch (securing a right underhook), turns Mochizuki and switches into an orthodox stance as he steps out of the clinch to land an unexpected rear uppercut.
Conclusions and Pick
If picking a winner wasn't hard enough following almost half as many cancelled dates as there now (finally) scheduled rounds, and the spectre of modern overtraining, these two talented, learned first-time challengers don't make it any easier.
One inevitably we can trust is their meeting 'inside' throughout the fight. The fight will go there, but, for me, it's on Nakatani to keep these meetings to a minimum. He won't shut him out on the outside, or by boxing in circles, but in combination with his willingness to call the upper body bluffing, that brilliant lead hand and his ability to anticipate the target and slide into space before Magramo can negotiate his length, I think Nakatani will prove more successful pulling him out of shape and stealing his rhythm off the back foot, circling to his right (avoiding Magramo's sweeping right hand), working check hooks around the guard and moving him onto uppercuts as and when he leans over the front foot. It tends to be when Magramo picks up his feet and chases a fight that we see most of his bad habits, in particular his back foot swinging forward, moving of the wrong foot first and jumping in with both feet off the ground. And besides, any Magramo opponent would surely appreciate the ability to create this separation and score in response to the abrasive pocket fighting. Because as competent as Nakatani is inside, when you have his relative versitility, stepping to the man who can only win the fight at one range might not prove as profitable when that man is good there as Magramo. As the fight goes longer, Nakatani's best bet as the stronger clinch fighter is to limit his in-fighting, almost exclusively, to working his arms into underhooks when Magramo secures an angle inside his jab, pushing him back to break up his offence and then stepping back out to punish him leaning forward or falling asleep in the clinch.
Whilst I consider Nakatani's broad skill set and acknowledge a path to victory, Magramo might have come yet a fight too soon. Having not even experienced a tenth round, perhaps the biggest test of his durability to date will come to the body. Weaker than he is now and less equipped to defend himself, he survived and outlasted Yabuki and Akui chin checks—that's tough. Here, however, he faces an opponent that knows the application of investing in the body and, crucially, if Magramo is to offset length and reach, he won't be passing up any opportunity to isolate a torso so long upon closing the distance. It's hard to imagine the Magramo slip and counter game, established so reliably on that rhythmic upper body, won't afford him enough opportunities to target the Nakatani body and dull him. But whether it's the body attack that slows any movement or Nakatani choosing the hold his feet and contest the pocket, when it heads inside I make Magramo the favourite to win those exchanges if he's not quickly tied up. Sound defensive and spatial instincts make him a dangerous counter (combination) puncher and he can better build on his combinations at short range, where he shifts his weight well and works his opponent up and down. It's crucial Magramo keeps his discipline moving the upper body; that's how he provokes the jab, picks it off and how he stays elusive and dangerous as he moves inside. Nakatani has previously struggled for timing punching down at shorter fighters in the opening spells, which would suggest there's a window for Magramo to get his foot in the door, slipping to the body early. From there, it's just as important he uses technique to control Nakatani on the inside, whether that's disrupting his stance with his head or just positioning him with a forearm or shoulder, creating the space to consistently target the body and outwork him in these areas.
Anxious to make up for lost time, I expect they'll make good on expectations. Tactically fascinating, with both wrestling for control and showing off talented offence in high-level exchanges, a lot of the rounds will be traded at a high pace. Ultimately though, I see Magramo provoking leads, slipping inside and targeting Nakatani's long torso with enough consistency to push the pace, keep the fight in the areas he's more equipped to win the exchanges and subdue the bigger man. Whilst I'm not sure Nakatani is forced into the losing column with a stoppage, I think Magramo does enough to build momentum and consolidate a lead in the second half of a fight that inspires cult followings on both sides.
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 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
Right now the Flyweight division, which for years was one of the strongest in the sport, is one of the least interesting. It's a division that is having a transitional period, with great fighters fighting 4lbs lower or 3lbs heavier. There are some sensational fighters at Flyweight, but they are few and far between, with many of the leading contenders are a bit limited. This has left the division with only a handful of excellent bouts at the top whilst we await for the next generation to develop.
Don't get us wrong, the division has some really exciting young talent in it's ranks, but the likes of Junto Nakatani, Nico Hernandez, Ryota Yamauchi, Jesse Rodriguez and Kento Hatanaka are just not ready, yet, to fight at the top.
That leaves us with some sensational champions and some veteran, or limited challengers. The match ups we want, are almost all unification bouts, with little else really being of major interest.
We say all that to pre-face the upcoming WBO Flyweight title bout which will put unbeaten 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (13-0, 7) up against mandatory challenger Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez (22-2-1-1, 13). It's a bout that looks good, but in reality we don't see it as all that competitive.
Tanaka is one of the guys who should be in, or on the verge, of the top 10 pound for pound conversation. He is already a 3 weight world champion at the age of 24 with notable wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura and Ryoichi Taguchi. In just 13 fights he has gone 7-0 (3) at world level, never faced an opponent with a losing record and his last 10 opponents combined had gone 176-11-8. In many ways he is cut from the same cloth as Naoya Inoue and Vasily Lomachenko. He wants to prove himself, and do it as quickly as possible. No messing about, no easy fights.
Sadly Gonzalez is a man who showed a lot of early promise but has yet to deliver on that promise. The 28 year old southpaw turned professional at the age of 19 after an excellent amateur career and would stop his first 6 opponents in 9 combined rounds. Sadly that power hasn't carried up as he's moved through the levels, and only 1 of his last 6 bouts saw him take an early win. His lack of power at the higher level isn't his only issue as he appears to lack in terms of durability, and both of his losses have come by stoppage. The first of those was in 2013, when he was dominated by Giovani Segura with the second with the second being a loss to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016.
What Gonzalez can do well is box. He's a nice, tidy boxer, with decent speed, nice movement and a brilliant arsenal of shots. Sadly though he is rather defensively open, and although he takes a good shot, his defenses fall apart when he's hurt, as we saw repeatedly against Segura. If you let him settle into his rhythm he's hard to unsettle, but at the same time he can be shaken, rather easily.
Boxing with Tanaka is rarely a good idea, he's an amazing boxer himself, with incredible speed, and he's often one, if not 2 or 3, steps ahead of his opponent. He's quick with hands and feet and is heavy handed enough to make incredibly tough world class fighters, even at Flyweight, respect him. His issues come when he faces fighters with big power, like Vic Saludar, not the boxers. Boxers are what he thrives against.
Coming into this we expect the fight to start off interestingly, with both boxing at a decent tempo and using their lightening speed. As the fight goes on however the fight will become more and more one sided, with Tanaka turning the screws in the middle rounds, upping his pace and unleashing his power shots. When that happens we expect to see Gonzalez crumbling, before being stopped, in a flurry of power shots, whilst on the ropes.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO10
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.