One of the disappointing things about boxing is the lack of long term narratives, with many fights having little to no back ground behind them, and seemingly thrown together by a match maker, to give a promoter's fighter a straight forward win. This weekend however we have a bout with a story that goes back more than two years, and has seen several twists and turns along the way.
In 2019 Kenichi Ogawa (25-1-1-1, 18) was ordered to face Azinga Fuzile (15-1, 9) in an IBF Super Featherweight world title eliminator. That bout looked a good one back then, but the two fighters couldn't agree terms and instead of the bout taking place we ended up seeing the two men go in different directions. Ogawa moved on to a fight with Joe Noynay, for WBO Asia Pacific title, whilst Fuzile faced off with Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, and controversially lost to the Tajik fighter. As a result neither man ended up getting a shot, with Rakhimov getting the shot at the title instead and fighting to a draw with Jo Jo Diaz, who missed weight.
Interestingly Ogawa was later ordered to fight Rakhimov for the vacant IBF title, which Diaz had lost on the scales, only to have Rakhimov pull out due to injury with Fuzile taking his place, and now, finally getting a chance to clash with Ogawa, more than 2 years after the bout was first spoke about.
One final twist, before we look at the fighters, is the location for the bout. Originally it seemed almost certain that it would be hosted in either Japan, where Ogawa is a native, or South Africa, where Fuzile is from. Instead however the bout will be in the US, where both fighters have had one previous bout. The neutral territory is certainly an interesting factor coming in to this, but we're not too sure it will make any difference to the out come of the contest. We actually think that the outcome will be decided by the styles of the two men, and they each have very different styles.
The 33 year old Ogawa is a boxer-puncher who made his debut in 2010 and quickly earned attention in Japan, by winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2011. He would suffer his first loss the following year, when he had his jaw broken by Yuki Miyoshi, but bounced back well, avenging the loss in 2013 and has gone unbeaten since. During that unbeaten run he has won the Japanese Super Featherweight toitle, picked up two wins against Rikki Naito, beat top domestic challenger Satoru Sugita, fought Tevin Farmer, fought to a draw with Noynay and won a barn burning 10 rounds with Kazuhiro Nishitani.
Of his bouts so far it's the bout with Farmer that stands out. It was his US debut and his only fight against a really slick fighter. It was for the IBF Super Featherweight title, and had three American judges, with two of them awarding Ogawa the victory via split decision, before Ogawa was stripped of the IBF title, and the win, due to a positive drug test. That drug test found Androstanediol in his system, which was put down to a skin cream, and saw Ogawa then being suspended for a year by the JBC. Many felt Ogawa had been lucky with the judges, but the drug test resulted in the bout becoming a no contest, neutralising the decision of the ringside officials.
In the ring Ogawa is a heavy handed boxer-puncher. He used to be pretty crude, and rely on his power and strength, but in more recent bouts be has polished off his boxing a bit and he was out boxing Joe Noynay until a head clash ended the bout. He not the most textbook of fighters, despite improving over the years, but he knows his strengths, and he knows his power is his key weapon, especially from his right hand. That his game change, and that what he's always looking to set up from mid range. A heavy, booming, destructive, straight right hand. Sadly for Ogawa he's not the quickest, he's not the sharpest, and he's quite predictable, with very little variation in what he does. He's good at what he does, but there's no smoke and mirrors, and instead he can look incredibly predictable and basic.
Aged 25 Azinga Fuzile is a young South African fighter just starting to come into his prime. Prior to turning professional he did have some international experience, and was moved quickly as a professional. In just his 5th bout he beat veteran Macbute Sinyabi, to claim the South African Featherweight title, and would add several other titles to his collection. In 2017 he scored a second notable win, stopping Tshifhiwa Munyai and in 2018 he added a win over former 2-time world champion Malcolm Klassen. That win over Klassen made hardcore fans sit up and take note, and was followed soon afterwards by another notable win, this time over Romulo Koasicha. That should had lead to him facing Ogawa in 2019, but as mentioned already Ogawa went in a different direction and instead Fuzile faced Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, giving Rakhimov a boxing lesson for 7 rounds, before being brutally stopped in round 8.
Sadly for Fuzile the loss to Rakhimov was a hard one to take and he was prevented from getting straight back in the ring as Covid19 shut the boxing world down in 2020. As a result of Covid it would be more than 18 months before Fuzile returned to the ring. When he did return it was in his US debut, against Martin Ward, and it was a chance for Fuzile to make a statement and show the world what he could do. He took that chance with both hands and stopped Ward in 7 rounds, to make international fans sit up and take notice.
In the ring Fuzile is a brilliantly smart boxer-mover. He's slippery, quick, sharp, accurate and a very clean puncher who controls the tempo of the action with his smart movement, busy output and accuracy. He's not a big puncher, in fact his shots really don't have much stopping power on them at all in a typical fashion, but he lands them so clean and so accurately that they take a toll on fighters, and due to how often he lands he can really hurt people. As we saw against Ward. We do wonder if his power can hold up at world level, but we're also not that sure it really needs to, given how good of a boxer he is.
Sadly for Ogawa a big edge in punching power isn't likely to be enough for him here. Instead we see his slow feet and basic boxing being a downfall, with Fuzile picking him apart with his speed, making Ogawa miss and countering him. Ogawa won't quit coming forward, we saw that against Farmer, but he will take a lot of punishment, and are expecting him to be hurt at times late on, but manage to make it to the final bell en route to a wide and clear decision loss.
Prediction - UD12 Fuzile
This coming Friday in Manchester, New Hampshire, we'll see unified Super Bantamweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (9-0, 7) defending his WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight titles, as he takes on late replacement Jose Velasquez (29-6-2, 19), who has gotten the bout after Ronny Rios (33-3, 16) contracted Covid19 around a week before the bout.
The bout will be Akhmadaliev's second defense of the title he won in 2020, when he beat Danny Roman in a sensational bout, and will serve as a break for Velasquez, who was supposed to fight Reymart Gaballo for the WBA interim Bantamweight title in 2020 before Nonito Donaire was pulled out of a different fight and he was lost in the shuffle.
Aged 27 Akhamdaliev has been moved through the ranks like very few others. He turned professional after an impressive amateur and was world ranked within a year of his professional debut. By late 2019 he was knocking on the door of a world title fight, and were it not for an injury to Danny Roman there's a good chance that "MJ" would have won a world title in September 2019. Instead he had to wait for Roman to recover, with the two men clashing in January 2020, with Akhmadlaiev taking a split decision, and the the unified IBA/WBA "super" titles. That was in just his 8th professional bout. Sadly Covid has stopped his rise to stardom, and since winning the titles he has fought just once, beating the then IBF mandatory challenger Ryosuke Iwasa.
In the ring Akhmadaliev can pretty much do it all. At his best he's a patient, but aggressive, pressure-puncher. He's naturally heavy handed, puts his shots together well, picks his moments and applies mentally draining and consistent front foot pressure. When he needs to box he can, as we saw against Roman, he can also change the tempo of bouts, and it a very complete all rounder. At times he can fight the wrong fight, an unfortunate consequence of being such a brilliant all rounder, but he's able to adapt and take control when he needs to. For a man with just 9 bouts to his name he has already proven he has world class power, hurting Danny Roman and stopping Ryosuke Iwasa, he has great stamina, going 12 rounds and picking up the pace in some of the later rounds against Roman, and he's proven he can take a shot, as he showed against Roman. The one question mark about him, is whether he can come out on top in an intense inside war, and that's hopefully something we'll see next year in a potential clash with Stephon Fulton or Brandon Figueroa.
The relatively unknown Velasquez is a 32 year old from Chile who really well known at all, despite having had a couple of bouts in the US. He began his career in 2013, and struggled to get going early in his career, going 4-5-2 (1) in his first 11 bouts. Since then however he has really turned things around going 21-1 in his last 22 bouts, with 14 straight wins dating back more than 5 years. Whilst that run looks good on paper his winning run does lack noteworthy wins, with his best victories coming against the likes of Melvin Lopez and Ariel Lopez, who were both unbeaten prior to facing Velasquez.
From the footage of Velasquez he looks like a strong, physical fighter, who could be a handful against some top 20 guys at Bantamweight. He's got solid stopping power, he's physical, but he's not particularly skilled, quick or sharp and instead has relied on his physical traits, rather than his technical ones. He's proven his toughness in recent bouts and his tenacity. He has never been stopped and has taken solid blows. Sadly for him however this is a major step up in class, a move up in weight from Bantamweight to Super Bantamweight and it's a bout he has taken at very short notice.
With a good notice period Velasquez has the ability to be a test for a decent fighter. This however is him against an excellent fighter, up a weight and on a weeks notice. This is not going to go well for him, and he will be beaten, broken down and stopped. The only thing prolonging his beating will be his own toughness, but that won't last forever and when "MJ" feels like ending this he will.
Prediction TKO4 Akhmadaliev
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 June 19th we'll see Japanese star Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) return to the ring for his first bout of 2021 as he defends his IBF and WBA "super" titles at Bantamweight, and takes on IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20) in Las Vegas. For Inoue this bout serves as his third defense of the unified titles, and sees him look to extend an excellent reign that included winning the WBSS final in 2019 and scoring a fantastic win over Jason Moloney last year. On the other hand the bout also serves as Dasmarinas's first world title bout, outside of IBO "world" title fights, and his US debut, making a huge fight for both men and one that could set the winner up for a massive fight at the end of 2021 against John Riel Casimero or Nonito Donaire.
Coming in to the bout it's fair to say the "Monster" will be close to an unbackable favourite, but is he going to have things all his own way? Or can Dasmarinas manage to ruffle a few feathers and score one of the biggest upsets of 2021? Lets take a look at the fighters and how we see this one going.
It's fair to say that Naoya Inoue is almost universally regarded as one of the best fighters on the planet. The 28 year old is already a 3 weight world champion, having won titles at 108lbs, 112lbs and 118lbs, and he has scored some brilliant wins already during his career. Victories over the likes of Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez, Omar Andres Narvaez, Kohei Kono, Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Nonito Donaire have seen many regard him, in just 20 bouts, as the greatest Japanese boxer of all time. Whilst others might feel Fighting Harada still outshines him, there really is many others in Japan's long and stories history that match up favourable against the "Monster".
In the ring Inoue lives up to the "Monster" tag that he's been dubbed with for years now. He's a huge puncher, with freakish physical strength, an ungodly amount of power in his punches, great movement, stupidly impressive timing, and criminally under-rated boxing skills. When many look at Inoue they see a power puncher, but the reality is that he's an intelligent boxer-puncher, who sets shots up perfectly, finds holes in opponents defenses and exploits them with his timing, speed, boxing brain and positioning. Staying with his offensive work he is also one of, if not the, best body puncher in the sport.
Not only is Inoue a great offensive fighter but he's also got solid defensive skills, and when he needs to he's also got a very impressive chin and a real ability to fight through adversity. In fact it's his ability to fight through adversity that takes him from a great fighter to an incredible one, and is something we've seen since his win over Yuki Sano, where he fought much of the bout one handed. We also, notably, saw it against Nonito Donaire, when he fought much of the bout with double vision and a fractured orbital. He has proven that when the going gets tough, he fights through it.
He is a scary fighter to face.
Dasmarinas on the other hand is much less well known, despite having debuted the same year as Inoue and fighting 13 bouts more than the Japanese star. Whilst part of that is down to what Inoue has done, winning world titles, winnings the WBSS and fighting around the globe, a lot is also down to what Dasmarinas hasn't done. And in reality Dasmarinas hasn't really done much, despite having more than 30 bouts to his name. His real crowning achievement was winning the IBO Bantamweight title in in 2018, when he knocked out Karim Guerfi in brutal fashion, but other than that there isn't too much to talk about on his record. If you want to go through the bones of his record the other notable wins results have been 2014 win over Hayato Kimura, a loss that same year to Lwandile Siyatha, a 2015 win over Jhaleel Payao, a 2018 draw with Manyo Plange and a 2019 win over Kenny Demecillo in an IBF world title eliminator. The reality is that there isn't a lot there.
Despite his record being thin Dasmarinas has shown plenty to like. His KO or Guerfi was a KO of the year contender in 2018, his wins against Payao and Demecillo showed that he was a capable fighter, his loss to Siyatha, a controversial one, showed that he could go into enemy territory and his bout with Plange, although a very lucky draw, showed he could take a shot and didn't stop trying. Sadly however those bouts also show one thing, he can be out boxed. In fact Guerfi made it look easy until he was tagged and Plange was really unfortunate not to get the win when he fought Dasmarinas. There was nothing about Dasmarinas' boxing that would worry any world class fighter. He has power, but lacks in terms of skills and often struggles to set that power up properly. Unfortunately Dasmarinas, due to his wait to get his mandatory title fight, has also seen him out of the ring for 20 months, something that will likely leaving him looking rusty and mess up his timing.
Despite being limited Dasmarinas does have some things going for him. He's a southpaw, always an advantage, and he's also notable taller than Inoue, by around 2" or 3", with a longer reach and natural size advantages. On paper this should be something that Dasmarinas backers are going to like, however we would dare say this is not an advantage against Inoue. He chews up southpaws and taller men. This was seen when he smashed Narvaez and Payano, both southpaws, and guys like Yoan Boyeaux and Jamie McDonnell, both much bigger men. His body shots are brutal and break down tall guys.
With history in mind we suspect that Dasmarinas's success will be very, very limited. Inoue will take a few moments to have a look at the Filipino, then begin to pressure him, going to his body, and look to land single, hard, powerful shots. Breaking down the Filipino.
Inoue has suggested he was wanting to break down Dasmarinas, but in all honesty we see the breaking down process being a quick, explosive process, rather than a slow one and wouldn't be surprised if this was over in 3 or 4 rounds. Against a Dasmarinas who has been more active then this, maybe, would have lasted longer, but with his inactivity, and with Inoue wanting to make a statement on his return to the US, this could be over very, very quickly.
Prediction - TKO4 Inoue
Way back in October 2019 we previewed an IBF Super Flyweight title bout between champion Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22) and mandatory challenger Jonathan Javier Rodriguez (22-1, 16), with the two men set to clash on November 2nd. That bout was then cancelled, days before taking place when Rodriguez was unable to enter the US. The bout was supposed to be on a top Rank card and instead of taking on Rodriguez we saw Ancajas defeat late replacement Miguel Gonzalez a month later.
Now, 16 months later, we are finally getting the bout on a PBC show, in Connecticut, with the bout still looming as a mandatory defense of Ancajas. Sadly the Covid19 pandemic ended up affecting both men. It kept Ancajas out of the ring for the entire of 2020, kept Rodriguez out of the ring for much of 2020 and forced this bout, which had been planned for the year, to get pushed back. Again. Despite that we are now here. We are on the verge of the fight, again, and we'll again take a look at what to expect.
More than 4 years ago we saw Jerwin Ancajas announce himself as one to watch as he dominated Teiru Kinoshita on the Manny Pacquiao Vs Jeff Horn under-card. The performance was a break out showing and was Ancajas' second defense of the IBF Super Flyweight title he had won the previous year. It was the type of performance that he needed on the biggest showcase of his career. Soon afterwards he was given more big opportunities, facing Jamie Conlan in Ireland and then making 4 defenses in the US as he quickly became one of the notable Super Flyweights of his era.
Blessed with good looks, fantastic hand speed, spiteful power and a good boxing brain Ancajas seemed to have it all. Except for competition. Sadly for him the Super Flyweight division was moving on around him, the likes of Naoyta Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Donnie Nietes and Kazuto Ioka were all off limits to him. Rather than those divisional stars Ancajas was stuck facing the best of the rest, , like the aforementioned Kinoshita and Conlan, along with Jonas Sultan and Alejandro Santiago Barrios. The inability, or in some cases unwillingness, to face the top dogs in the division has seen his reign being a long one but one that is relatively low profile and not one that has made him into the star he should have been.
Sadly his B, and sometimes C, rate challengers haven't helped Ancajas look great. It's a shame as the 29 year old Filipino is a fantastic boxer-puncher. He's gorgeously smooth in the ring, throws wonderful combinations, has an excellent understanding of the ring, and combines skills, speed and power wonderfully. He is also a big kid at the weight and a southpaw, making him a nightmare.
Aged 25 Rodriguez is an up and comer who is looking to announce himself on to the world stage after fighting his entire career, so far, on the Mexican national scene. In fact this is only really the third time he has taken on a fighter of some note. Thankfully though his career has picked up in recent years, and his first 21 bouts were pretty much bouts where he learned on the job without making much fuss. In more recent bouts however he has beaten former world title contenders Felipe Orucuta and Julian Yedras, and established himself a lot more in 2 fights than he did in his previous 21.
Despite a couple of solid wins Rodriguez hasn't done all that much to really earn a world title fight, especially not given the talent in the Super Flyweight division, but the IBF will IBF and he is the IBF mandatory with only a couple of notable wins on his record. Which in fairness to the IBF is 2 more than some other recent mandatory challengers of theirs.
One notable thing about Rodriguez, and why he may be dangerous for Ancajas, is the relative lack of footage of him. From the footage that is available Rodriguez looks strong, tough, and aggressive. Like many Mexican fighters he comes to fight and he comes with a lot of desire and hunger. Sadly though he is rather methodical, a big slow, and a little bit clumsy. He looks like he could be hit, a lot, and may be stepping up too much from the competition he has faced so far. He's the sort of fight who should make for some fan friendly fights, but he looks like he would struggle with any of the top guys in the division. Including Ancajas.
The pressure and aggression of Rodriguez could make this fun and interesting, and if he can take sustained punishment whilst continuing to come forward he could be an absolute nightmare for Ancajas. We have seen Ancajas struggle on the inside, when fighters have got close to him, and if Rodriguez can get close and rough him up the Mexican might have a real chance. Especially give the fact Ancajas has been out of the ring since December 2019.
We suspect the speed, movement and skills for Ancajas will be the key. He'll neutralise the pressure, lure Rodriguez in, and tag him. Repeatedly. Rodriguez will not show any quit, and will be looking to make a fight of things in each of the 12 rounds, but we see Ancajas picking his spots and racking up the rounds en route to a clear decision.
Interestingly the delay for this fight may end up helping Rodriguez, but we still don't think it will be anywhere near enough to get him a victory here.
Prediction - UD12 Ancajas
April 2021 looks set to be an incredible month for fight fans, with a wonderful mix of high profile fights at the top level of the sport and bouts at the lower level, and featuring everything in between. It is a month that really should deliver great action week after week and it kicks off in great fashion this coming Saturday. That's in part due to a bout we've been looking forward to for a little over a year now. That's a match up between unified WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight world champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6) and mandatory challenger Ryosuke Iwasa (23-7, 17), who also enters as the "interim" IBF champion.
The bout will see two of the best 122lb fighters clash in what is a genuine excellent match up, and it's one that should have fans from all over the globe tuning in. That's not just because of the match up it's self, which is genuinely brilliant, but because of what it means for the division in general. The winner will be in the mix for bouts against the likes of Luis Nery, Stephen Fulton, Ronnie Riose, Brandon Figueroa and Carlos Castro, among many, many others.
Of the two men the more impressive has been 26 year old Uzbek Akhmadaliev, known as "MJ". He is, after just 8 fights, a unified champion and was a former standout amateur who has set his sights high and raced away to the top, whilst becoming one of the main faces at the forefront of Uzbek boxing. He is a fighter who has looked to prove a point every step of the way during his boxing career and has already proven himself as a top level fighter. In just 8 bouts!
Before turning professional Akhmadaliev had reportedly had over 300 amateur bouts, winning the vast majority. He had won medals at the World Amateur Championships, Olympics, Asian Championships and World Youth Championships, and had been one of the standout fights on the amateur scene. He had, however, got a reputation for being the bridesmaid and not the bride, falling short in the business end of competitions. As a professional however he has used that amateur experience and the skills he learned in the unpaid ranks to challenge himself and make a name for himself.
In just 8 bouts Akhmadaliev has already beaten the likes of Isaaz Zarate, Carlos Carlson and most notably Daniel Roman, who he beat in January 2020 for the unified titles. He has proven he can box, punch, brawl, and fight at a high tempo for 12 rounds. He has proven more in just 8 bouts, adding up to a total of 40 professional rounds, than many fights do in a career. We'll admit we thought the step up to facing Roman was too soon, but he proved us wrong and it's going to be very hard to bet against him in the future given how he performed there.
Although he is hugely impressive there are still some questions to ask of Akhmadaliev. He has impressed with his ability to box or fight, and he has shown a good chin, great work rate and highly impressive stamina, though we do wonder what happens when he's forced to chase a bout, and it'll be interesting to see what happens when he's cut, or in genuine trouble. If we ever see him in real trouble. We also wonder what he's like against a big puncher, and Iwasa does have power, as well as what he's like against a dangerous south, with his previous southpaw opponents being relatively limited. So far however he has impressed fight after fight and shown the ambition and drive that has already made us huge fans of his.
Ryosuke Iwasa is a 31 year old veteran of the professional ranks, with 30 professional bouts to his name, and over 60 amateur bouts. He is already a former world champion and a man who was long tipped to be a star in Japan, though has failed to reach the heights expected of him when he turned professional. Despite not being the fighter many hoped he would be he has managed a very respectable career and is certainly not a fighter who has failed in the sport. He has, however, been inconsistent. When he's on point he looks fantastic, but there are a number of underwhelming performance during his career as well.
For Japanese fans Iwasa made his name, originally, on the amateur stage where he went 60-6 (42) and picked up the High School Triple crown. This saw him turning professional with high expectations on his shoulders. Under the guidance of former world champion Celes Kobayashi he was moved quickly and at the end of 2010 he had secured a Japanese title fight as part of the Champion Carnival, by winning the Strongest Korakuen and becoming the MVP. Sadly for him his Japanese title fight, in 2011, came against a then rising Shinsuke Yamanaka, with Iwasa losing a 10th round TKO to Yamanaka in a sensational bout. Aged 21 at the time that was a learning experience and he would reel off a string of wins, taking the Japanese and OPBF titles before getting his first world title fight, and losing in 6 rounds, in England, to Lee Haksins in 2016.
The loss to Haskins was Iwasa final bout at Bantamweight before moving up in weight, and finding his groove once again. Just over 2 years after the defeat to Haskins we saw Iwasa have his career defining win, as he battered Yukinori Oguni in 6 rounds to win the IBF Super Bantamweight title. It was a red hot performance from Iwasa who looked sensational. Sadly though he failed to build on that win, scoring an underwhelming decision to retain his title against Ernesto Saulong and failing to really get to grips with TJ Doheny, who dethroned him in 2018. Since his title loss Iwasa has looked good, beating Cesar Juarez by technical decision and then dismantling former WBO Bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales in 2019, to win the IBF "interim" title.
In the ring Iwasa really does blow hot and cold, and he always has. He looked poor in his second fight, Edgar Allende, and again later in his career against Richard Pumicpic, Ernesto Saulong and TJ Doheny. When he's looked good however, he has looked sensational, and we saw that against Oguni and Tapales. In the ring he's a southpaws who fights as a boxer-puncher. His power is genuinely spiteful at this level, and technically he's very solid. Sadly though he often fights in a one paced fashion, struggles to go through the gears, and has struggled with southpaws through his career, with all 3 losses coming to lefties.
Of the two men we would suggest that Iwasa is the biggest puncher, at least a single punch basis, he's also the taller, longer man and if he can establish his jab he does have a chance of getting on top of the bout early on. His team have stated their game plan is to stop Akhamadliev from getting into his rhythm and we suspect that is the key to beating the Uzbek.
Sadly for Iwasa however he is the less versatile of the two fighters. He's an excellent boxer-puncher, but he's not the most creative fighter, he's not a great inside fighter and he's got slow feet. They are all things that Akhmadaliev will use against him. The Uzbek is a much, much more rounded in ring competitor. That is, we suspect, going to be the difference making.
We suspect Iwasa will come out sharp, looking to land clean straight shots and getting his range, but as the rounds go on Akhmadaliev will close the distance, get inside and begin to grind away at Iwasa. The difference in speed will be key and by the end of round 12 Akhmadaliev will have done more than enough to deserve the decision.
We expect the champion to retain, but he will have to work for it, and this will not be an easy day at the office for the talented Uzbek.
Prediction - Akhmadaliev UD12
Over the last year or so the Minimumweight division has, sadly, been asleep. In 2020 we only had each world title fought for once, and three of those bouts came within weeks of each other. The pandemic pretty much shut the division down at the top level with very few fighters in action and very few bouts of note taking place in the division. In fact not only did we only have 3 world title bouts but we also only had a single OPBF title bout, a single Japanese title bout, and no WBO Asia Pacific title bouts. The division damn near stood still, other than Panya Pradabsri's upset win over Wanheng Menayothin.
With that in mind we hope 2021 is a much better year for the division, and in fairness we expect it to be, with several interesting looking bouts at 105lbs now being lined up. One of which comes on February 27th and will see IBF champion Pedro Taduran (14-2-1, 11) defending his title against fellow Filipino Rene Mark Cuarto (18-2-2, 11) in a rare All-Filipino world title bout. The bout will be Taduran's second defense of the title he won in 2019 and it will be Cuarto's first world title bout. It will also be a bout that will help shape the division for the foreseeable future, given that both fighters are only 24 years old.
Of the two men the hard hitting Taduran is the more well known. He first came the attention of the wider boxing world in 2018, when he challenged the then WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin, and gave the Thai all he could handle in a compelling and highly competitive 12 rounder. That bout proved that Taduran belong in, or around, the top 10 and just 13 months later he beat Samuel Salva in a thrilling war to claim the then vacant IBF title. That win saw Taduran sit on the verge of something big, though sadly he was unable to capitalise. His first defense saw him travel to Mexico last February and battle Daniel Valladares, with a headclash resulting in a technical draw. Had Covid19 not been an issue there is a very good chance we'd have seen Taduran return to the ring in the summer or fall to make his second defense, but sadly it wasn't to be.
In the ring Taduran is a genuine handful. He's a southpaw, he's heavy handed, he's aggressive, he throws a lot, he comes forward and he's really awkward. Technically he's a very, very flawed fighter. He's raw, crude, and often open. Something that Salva punished him for early on in their bout. He is however the type of fighter who doesn't understand what it means to quit, and won't back off. He's relentless and uses his awkwardness and energy to break fighters down. It seems clear he can be out boxed, and he can be out skilled, but very few will have the tools to out box him for 12 rounds, or the durability to survive with his whirlwind offense.
When it comes to Rene Mark Cuarto we suspect very few, outside of the Philippines at least, have seen him in action. That's despite the fact he's been a professional since 2014 and has 22 professional bouts to his name. The main reason that many won't have seen Cuarto is because, for the most part, he's not really fought anyone of note. In fact his most notable bouts are a close win in 2018, against Clyde Azarcon, and a 2019 loss to Samuel Salva. Those two bouts aside his only other bout of real was a 6 round decision with the unbeaten Jayson Vayson. Thankfully there is footage of him out there, and on tape he looks solid enough. He's got a busy jab, he's quick on his toes, he moves around the ring well, and technically looks solid.
Sadly for Cuarto there's a big gulf between looking solid and being world class. We like a lot of what we see of Cuarto, but there are issues that will be a problem here. He doesn't look powerful or particularly strong. He doesn't seem to impose himself very well, and his jab aside it's hard to really be impressed by much in is arsenal. He simply doesn't enough at times and appears to be just a tad lazy at times. In his bout against Salva, for example, he really failed to move through the gears, happy to try and win the bout with his jab, rather than letting shots fly late on when he was behind.
Technically we think that Cuarto is the better boxer. He's certainly the more polished and has the more technical approach to in ring action. Sadly however his lack of power, and lower work rate will not help him here. His jab might keep Taduran at bay for a few rounds, but as the contest goes on that jab by it's self won't be enough. Instead Taduran's pressure and work rate will be the difference maker and get to Cuarto.
We suspect Cuarto will show a lot of heart and determination, but we also expect to see Taduran's power and output get too much, and we're expecting a late TKO win for the defending champion, who may well be behind on the scorecards after the first 6 rounds.
Prediction - TKO9 Taduran
This coming Saturday in Indio, California we’ll see IBF Super Featherweight champion Joseph Diaz (31-1, 15) make his first defense as he takes on mandatory challenger Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12) in what looks like a really exciting match up. This is not just a step up for the challenger, who gets a great chance to compete in front of a global audience for the first time, but also a match up that stylistically, should be something very exciting due to the mentality of the two men involved, who can both put on a show.
Diaz, the champion, is the much, much more well known fighter and was a US Olmypian in 2012, where he was beaten by Cuban star Lazaro Alvarez. After turning professional there was huge expectations on Diaz and he would begin his career with 26 straight wins before taking on WBC Featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr in 2018, in Diaz's first world title fight. Sadly against Russell Jr we saw Diaz suffer his first loss, losing a competitive but clear decision to the speedy and slick Russell Jr. Following that loss Diaz attempted to win the WBA Featherweight title, but failed to make weight leading to him moving up in weight and fighting at Super Featherweight. Since moving up in weight he has looked impressive, and scored noteworthy wins against Charles Huerta, Freddy Fonseca and, most notably, Tevin Farmer, with that win over Farmer netting him the IBF world title.
Diaz isn’t the quickest, the smoothest, the most powerful or the best fighter out there. He is however, a fighter. He comes for a fight, he likes to dictate the action, let his hands go and be responsible for the way the fight is going. He is, at heart, a pressure fighter, and a physically strong one at that. Despite moving up in weight recently he is physically imposing at 130lbs, and will bully and push people around. Against a speedy boxer, who uses their feet, he can be left chasing shadows, but against a fighter who stands and fights, or tries to slip and side in the pocket, he can end up out working and out fighting them. That’s where he’s most dangerous, and where fighters need to try and avoid him, his work rate, energy and will to win are incredible, and it showed against Farmer when he fought much of the bout with a brutal cut.
Whilst Diaz is a well known fighter in the US, and is someone who has been in and around the world level for a few years now, it’s fair to say that few, outside of those who watch Russian shows held by RCC Promotions, will have seen him. If we’re being honest that’s actually a shame as the Russian based Tajik is a very fun fighter to watch and someone who fans should be more aware of before this coming weekend.
The Tajik was a solid amateur before beginning his professional career back in 2015, fighting in low key Russian shows whilst slowly building his experience and his record. In 2016 he began to step up, and scored a number of decent wins over well known Filipino fighters. Soon afterwards he began to face progressively better opponents, beating the likes of Emanuel Lopez, Malcolm Klassen and Robinson Castellano to build his name. In 2019 he finally got a chance to move towards a world title fight as he travelled to South Africa and took on Azinge Fuzile in an IBF world title eliminator. The bout saw Rakhimov struggle with the move, speed and skills of Fuzile early in the bout, but as the bout went on, and as Fuzile began to slow down, we finally saw the power of Rakhimov, who scored a great come from behind stoppage win.
Rakhimov, much like Diaz, is an aggressive fighter who wants to come forward, he’s a bit more basic than Diaz, and doesn’t apply a busy pressure style like the American, but does have a very brutal body attack and he is a bigger puncher than the American. Sadly though he is also someone with a questionable chin, and he has been dropped several times in his career, at a much lower. At his best Rakhimov is an aggressive boxer-puncher, and if he can maintain range he is very good. Sadly for him that won’t be an easy task here, and there is a very real chance he’ll struggle to create the space he needs to work with against Diaz. If he can create that space however, he does have a real chance here.
If we’re being honest Rakhimov is a good fighter. He’s a dangerous fighter, with solid power, a nice strong base and good fundamentals. He’s genuinely heavy handed and someone who can hold their own in a genuine firefight. Sadly though his suspect chin, added to his lower work rate will be an issue here. Diaz can be out boxed, he can be out manouvered and out skilled, however if a fighter isn’t too quick and too sharp for him, he will grind a result out against them. That’s exactly what we expect to see here. We suspect that Rakhimov will have success at times, especially when he can create range and land some solid body work, however we suspect that the pressure, work rate and energy of Diaz will be too much. We’re expecting Diaz to simply out work and out land Rakhimov, to end up taking a clear, but hard fought, decision win.
Although we do favour Diaz, we are expecting this to be a fantastic fight. Diaz’s pressure and work rate will make the fight fun and exciting to watch, with Rakhimov’s power potentially adding some drama to the bout. Despite thinking Rakhimov will lose we do think he’ll connect with fans and fans will want to see him again afterwards, and he will do enough to be competitive at times. He’ll lose, but put in a very good effort.
Prediction - UD12 Diaz
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
On December 18th, just a week before Christmas, we'll see the next big show from DAZN. The most notable bout on that card, by some margin, is the ring return of IBF Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1, 35), who looks to make his first defense since recapturing the title last year. In the opposite corner to the Kazakh great is unbeaten Polish challenger Kamil Szeremeta (21-0, 5), who will be getting the biggest fight of his career, by some margin.
The bout has been one of the many long running saga's of 2020. The bout had been spoken about as taking place in the spring, before Golovkin required surgery. It was then delayed several times due to the on going global situation and now it's been 14 months since Golovkin beat Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the title in their 2019 barn burner.
At his best Golovkin was, legitimately, one of the best fighters in the sport. He was a very well schooled fighter who had been developed fantastically in the amateurs. He had then turned professional and had risen through the ranks quietly until making his American debut in 2012, at the age of 30. By that point he was 23-0 (20). Despite being a well schooled fighter Golovkin really made his name as an aggressive boxer-puncher, showcasing brutal power, an iron chin, and a decent boxing brain with a charming personality. He was helped by HBO pushing him as a legitimate star and he went on a good run though solid B tier contenders, whilst failing to secure a massive mega fight until 2017. It was then he fought Daniel Jacobs, taking a win over Jacobs, but by then Golovkin was already 34, and it seemed like that was the start of his slowdown.
Since beating Jacobs, in a very close fight, Golovkin has gone 3-1-1, with his loss and draw both coming in close fights to Mexican star Saul Alvarez. In our eyes he had done enough to deserve a win in the first bout but had, fairly, lost the second.
In his pomp Golovkin really looked like a terminator in the ring. He wasn't the most defensively aware but that hardly mattered. His chin was rock solid, he walked through fire when he had to, and had bricks for hands. He could also maintain a wolid work rate, and was great up top and to the body. Often making opponents mentally crumble just as much as physically fall apart. Now at the age of 38 and with injuries piling up we do wonder what he has left, and he really was pushed hard by Derevyanchenko last time out, adding 12 tough miles on to the clock. In fact since that Jacobs fight Golovkin had taken a lot of punishment with 24 rounds against Canelo and the 12 against Derevyanchenko and we do wonder just how many more tough bouts he has left in him.
At 31 years old Szeremeta is pretty much at the "now or never" stage of his career. Sadly for him he's not really had the fights to prepare for this level of fight, though he has had good success in the European ranks, beating the likes of Rafal Jackiewicz, Patrick Mendy, Alessandro Goddi, Ruben Diaz and Andrew Francillette, as well as the shell of Kassim Ouma. Sadly though his competition is really, at best, European level and worryingly he's struggled to make an impact even at that level, in terms of power. In fact with only 5 stoppages in 21 bouts he is among the most feather fisted fighters to challenger for a title, at any weight, this year.
Despite his competition being poor Szeremeta himself isn't actually an awful fighter. He's got nice hand, lovely upperbody movement and picks a shot well, with a very nice crisp, sharp jab. He looks at his best when he's stood in the center of the ring, applying pressure, using his jab to tattoo an opponents face and countering well. Technically he does look a talented fighter who knows his way around the ring and how to box. He's fairly basic, and super feather fisted, but he can box.
Whilst we certainly think that Golovkin is on the slide, and has been for a few years, it's hard to see what Szeremeta can really do to ask questions of him. Yes Szeremeta is skills, but like many of Golovkin's former opponents there is nothing there too make you give him a chance against the Kazakh. In fact if anything the fact Szeremeta likes to hold his ground is going to be a major issue and leave him open to Golovkin's heavy shots, especially to the body.
We suspect that Szeremeta will have success early on, and might even manage to win a few rounds from Golovkin early on. But then we see Golovkin catching up with the Pole, hammering him with solid, single shots, having no fear of what's coming back, and breaking down Szeremeta in the middle rounds.
Prediction - Golovkin TKO 7
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.