The growth of the DAZN service as a distribution network for boxing is still something of a work in progress, and there are still a lot of areas where the service needs to improve, with the commentary being one of the most notable. Despite that the service has been fantastic for a number of reasons, and one of those is the fact the service seems to have taken a very clear interest in picking up fighters from the lower weight classes. In the last 12 months alone we have seen 3 of the 4 Light Flyweight world champions compete on the service and that is something that we didn't expect to see, but something we're really happy about. Finally a major outlet is shining a light on one of the most over-looked divisions in the sport.
DAZN's foray into the Light Flyweight division saw IBF champion Felix Alvarado beat the fight out of Deejay Kriel in January and saw WBA "Super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi defeat Axel Aragon Vega in a brilliant tear up in March. On May 8th we get the chance to see another champion, this time WBO champion Elwin Soto (18-1, 12) in action as he takes on Japanese veteran Katsunari Takayama (32-8-0-1, 12). Like the two other two recent bouts in the division this could end up being a really brutal and thrilling bout between two men at very different stages of their careers.
Of the two men American audiences will likely be more familiar with Soto, especially newer fans to the sport. Soto won his WBO title on American soil when he stopped Angel Acosta, in his US debut, and has since defended the title twice, both in the US, with decision wins over Edward Heno and Carlos Buitrago. In his title win he looked talented, but flawed, and was struggling with stamina late in the bout, until hurting Acosta, who had been dropped in round 3, and forcing a controversial 12th round finish. Since then he has again looked more like a youngster who is growing into being a champion, rather than someone close to being the complete product, with both of his defenses leaving plenty to be desired. And whilst that sounds negative, the reality is that Soto seems like the sort of fighter who maybe won a world title before he was really ready for it, and needs to take another year or two to mature into the fighter he will become.
Although not the complete article yet Soto is still a monster. He's got huge power, an impressive chin, an an economical style. He presses forward, he's strong and tough and is still really rounding off his boxing skillset fight by fight. Although still improving Soto is slow of foot, sometimes a bit too methodical, and happy to come forward behind a tight guard rather than letting shots fly. A very stark comparison to the likes of Kyoguchi and Alvarado. He looks easier to outbox than the other two, due to not working as much, but is just as dangerous and strong as the other two, and arguably has the biggest upside given his young age.
Although we have been impressed by Soto at times, it is worth noting that faltering Carlos Buitrago ran him a lot closer than the scores cards suggest, and Edward Heno also gave him a very tough bout. He's the type of fighter who, against someone with a lot of quick movement will struggle to shine.
If you're a long term fan of the lower weights Katsunari Takayama needs no introduction at all. However it's fair to say that most fight fans aren't long term watches of the lowest weights and have sadly missed out on the career of the "Lighting Kid" who is now edging towards his 38th birthday and is not the fighter he used to be. At his best he was a whirring dervish of activity, willing to skip around the ring, let shots go in bunches, and use a lot of in and out movement, without too much worry of what was coming his way. He had a brilliant chin and could rely on it when he needed to, and was able to stand and trade when he wanted. His style made for some brilliant bouts against the likes of Yutaka Niida, Francisco Rodrgiuez Jr, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Jose Argumedo among others. He was also a serial belt collector winning the WBC, the WBA interim title and the WBO and IBF titles, twice. All at Minimumweight. Sadly it's hard to know just how good he is going to be at Light Flyweight.
The bigger issue for Takayama isn't so much the move up in weight, he did fight at Light Flyweight early in his career, but instead his skin. During his career the accumulated punishment has left his skin very paper like, and he has been cut numerous times during the later part of his career. In fact 3 of his last 5 bouts have ended via technical decision, dating back more than 5 years. Aged 37, moving up in weight, with paper skin, taking on a big puncher, things don't look good for Takayama.
Saying all that however Takayama hasn't taken much punishment recently. In 2016 he retired before chasing a place at the Olympics. He failed in his pursuit for a Tokyo 2020 place and returned to professional boxing last year, putting on a brilliant performance against former 2-time world challenger, at Light Flyweight, Reiya Konishi. That bout showed that Takayama still has his legs and output to go, at least for 6 rounds, though of course it's a very different proposition over 12 rounds against a big puncher like Soto.
At his best Takayama would have been a stylistic nightmare for Soto. His non stop movement, ability to take a shot and high output would have been a very tough assignment for a man like Soto, who is powerful but low activity and slow of foot. This current version of Takayama however is a very different kettle of fish, and we're really not sure if Takayama's face can hold hold up or whether his legs can go 12 rounds.
We would genuine love to see Takayama win. It would be one final chapter in a career that has been amazing to follow and really seen him tread a track rarely seen by a Japanese fighter, as he actively pursued IBF and WBO titles. The reality however is that father time and a long career has probably left Takayama with only a slim chance here.
Our expectation is that Takayama starts well, uses his feet, and stops Soto from getting set, and getting his shots off. Using a tactic similar to what Carlos Buitrago did, but busier. As the fight goes on however the power and physical strength of Soto will take over and Mexican will leave Takayama busted open and force the doctor to wave off the bout.
The real question, for us, is what will cause those cuts, and when will the bout be stopped? Takayama has been involved in head clashes and if one of those occurs it would be a surprise, at all, to see a technical decision here. On the other hand Soto is a big puncher and there's a real chance that his punches will bust up Takayama and force a stoppage.
Prior to the end we expect Takayama to set a high pace, at least early on, and force Soto to fight at a much higher tempo than usual. We expect a lot of leather to be thrown here and for the bout to be, yet another, fantastic Light Flyweight action bout. Expect regular exchanges, with Soto landing the heavier blows and Takayama landing at a high volume. Sadly though it's hard to see the bout ending in any other way, other than Takayama wearing a crimson mask.
For gamblers out there, Takayama by technical decision might be worth a shot, but a slim one. For everyone else, the obvious outcome is Soto by TKO, and that's the one we'll be picking.
Prediction - TKO9 Soto (cuts)
There's a bit of a quiet period in Asia during August but that comes to an end on August 20th when we get a brilliant world title bout that could potentially see a “torch passing moment” in Japanese boxing, or the final big performance from a genuine modern warrior. The bout in question sees teenager Riku Kano (10-1-1, 5) [加納 陸] attempt to set a Japanese record as he takes on multi-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (30-8-0-1, 12) [高山 勝成].
Of the two fighters it's Takayama who is the more well known. The 33 year old has been a modern day Minimumweight legend. He has faced a who's who featuring fighters like Isaac Bustos, Eagle Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi, Mario Rodriguez, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Ryuji Hara. Whilst he has suffered losses he has never shown fear of fighting the best, and actually just having a fight.
If you like “pure boxing” and fighters who concentrate on counter punching then Takayama isn't a fighter for you. However if you like fighters who get in the ring, have a war and give non-stop action then Takayama is fighter who really is down your alley, as seen in his 2014 FOTY contender with Rodriguez Jr. Sadly however those wars have taken a toll on his flesh and in recent bouts he has been cutting very easily, as a result he has been ripped wide open in two of his last 3 bouts.
Aged 33 Takayama has been a professional for close to 16 years. During his career he has claimed Japanese national titles along with the WBC, WBA “interim”, IBF and WBO titles and been fighting in world title bouts for more than a decade. He is Japan's first “Grandslam” champion and is a man who knows his legacy is set, but feels there is still more in the tank and that a technical loss to Jose Argumedo last December doesn't have to be the end. He's still full of energy, still aggressive and still a world class fighter but his career has certainly taken a toll on his flesh and he's a fighter who doesn't have much longer left in the sport.
Aged just 18 Kano is viewed as one of the rising stars of Japanese boxing, and along with the Inoues, Kosei Tanaka and fellow teenager Hinata Maruta. Unlike many of the other promising youngsters in Japan Kano actually didn't start his career in Japan, instead however he began almost 3 years ago in the Philippines, before establishing himself in Thailand. In the Philippines he went 1-1-1 but really came into his own in Thailand, where he won the WBA Asia title and proved he could go 12 rounds.
Kano made his Japanese debut last year and in his third bout on Japanese soil he out pointed the very experienced Pigmy Kokietgym. This year, in his fourth bout at home, he claimed the “interim” OPBF Minimumweight title, with a split decision win against former world champion Merlito Sabillo. That win was a serious coming of age performance by Kano who showed his skills, energy, toughness. Those traits will have to be seen again here for him to have any chance against the ultra-aggressive Takayama.
Although he already has 12 bouts to his record his upcoming bout is potentially an historic one. If Kano wins he will become the youngest ever world champion from Japan, beating a very old record of Hiroki Ioka who set it back in 1987 when he beat Mai Thomburifarm. The pressure is all on him to break that record and set himself on to the world title picture. That is the sort of pressure than can break lesser fighters and is something incredibly important for Kano to cope with.
At his best this would almost certainly be a win for Takayama. However he's not at his best, his skin is so fragile that he could cut any moment and unfortunately we think that will be the issue here with Kano cutting Takayama and claiming a stoppage as a result, probably in the middle rounds with Takayama starting slowly due to spending the last 8 months away from the ring. We wouldn't be shocked by a Takayama win, but we do suspect Kano will be the man coming out on top.
Sadly for fight fans hoping to see this bout, it will only be aired live in Osaka,and no international streams are expected to be available.
With 5 world title fights on New Year's Eve we can understand why Japanese fight fans could be excited about the end of year shows. Sadly however a lot of those world title bouts are less than great. One such example is the IBF Minimumweight title bout between always exciting champion Katsunari Takayama (30-7-0-1, 12) and very limited Mexican challenger Jose Argumedo (15-3-1, 9).
The bout is a mismatch due to the limitations, and recent activity, of the challenger. Argumedo hasn't fought in over a year, and he's actually just 1-1 in the last 24 months with the win coming against the very poor Irving Requena. His most notable bouts have all been defeats, with 2 decision losses to Oswaldo Novoa and a loss last year to Carlos Velarde, and although he was very competitive in those defeats there is little to suggest he should be in a world title bout.
Whilst Argumedo does lack a world level win he does interesting hold some victories over gatekeepers. In 2013 he beat both Martin Tecuapetla and Javier Martinez Resendiz, though of course those wins were more than 2 years ago and neither Tecuapetla or Resendiz have shown themselves to be world class themselves.
Despite the issues with Argumedo getting this fight we do suspect that he will give his all, he will come to fight and he will be happy to go to war with Takayama. He may not be world class be he will almost certainly give us action, especially given his toughness.
Whilst Argumedo has yet to impress it's hard not to be impressed by the champion who is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. Takayama is a true warrior, his bouts have been among the most exciting in recent years and his brawl with Francisco Rodriguez Jr was, rightfully, regarded as one of the best fights of 2014. Technically he is flawed but those flaws are somewhat compensated for with his insane work rate, incredible toughness and his amazing will to win.
The 32 year old champion can, at times, be accused of being inconsistent and has been through a very hard career. Bouts against the likes of Rodriguez, Roman Gonzalez, Yutaka Niida and Nkosinathi Joyi have all taken their toll on his body. Despite the inconsistencies and damaging wars Takayama is still a fighter who knows how to pull wins out of the of the bag, as shown last year against Shin Ono and he knows how to turn it on when needed with huge assaults that over-whelm lesser opponents.
For us this bout has just one winner, Takayama. Almost certainly by decision with the aggressive Japanese fighter simply out working and out fighting the Mexican visitor.
Arguably the fight that promises the most this month comes at 105lbs and features one of the sports most exciting veteran fighters and a young man looking to prove a point.
That veteran is Japanese star Katsunari Takayama (29-7-0-1, 11), the IBF Minimumweight champion, and one of the most “must watch” fighters on the planet. He was involved in a bout that many had down as the 2014 FOTY, his 12 round war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, and had previously been in wars with the likes of Mario Rodriguez, Nkosinath Joyi, Yutaka Niida and Eagle Den Junlaphan, among others. In the other corner will be first time world title challenger Ryuji Hara (19-1, 11), a former amateur stand out who now looks to prove himself on the world stage. Although not a star Hara is a former Japanese and OPBF champion who has impressed with his speed and skills in the past.
Of the two men it's Takayama who is, by far, the most well known. His list of opponents reads like a who's who of the lower weights and includes the likes of Roman Gonzalez and Isaac Bustos as well as those named above. Not only has he faced a who's who but he has made his name from his exciting style, his wars with the likes of Rodriguez and his willingness to travel, which has seen him fight in South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico. He is also known for being one of the few “Grandslam” champions, holding every title in his career.
In the ring Takayama has made a name as being a warrior. A true warrior. He's shown an insane work rate, an amazing toughness and a fantastic will to win. We've seen him be out boxed, we've seen him be out fought but we've never see Takayama give up in a fight or slow down, instead it seems the better the opponent the more he steps it up.
Despite his style and energy Takayama does lack power, an issue that has seen him add a lot of miles to the clock. Despite only being 32 he has 302 rounds to his name, an average of more than 8 rounds a fight. Those miles on the clock did, unfortunately show themselves last time out when he was very fortunate to over-come Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr. For the most part that bout was one-sided with Takayama bringing his pressure and work-rate though a cut, inflicted by a punch, should have been a TKO loss. Instead however it resulted in a very controversial technical decision.
Although Takayama is viewed as being a fighter on the slide he is still one of the best in the division and a really proven world level performer.
As for Hara he was a man tipped for success when he first turned professional and for 18 fights success came easily for him. He won the Rookie of the Year before claiming a Japanese title and then an OPBF title whilst running to 18-0. On his way up he beat the likes of Kenichi Horikawa, Takashi Kunishige and Donny Mabao. Unfortunately, last October, he suffered his first defeat, being stopped in 10 rounds of a brilliant bout with the sensational Kosei Tanaka.
Since the loss to Tanaka we've only see Hara fight once, scoring a 2nd round KO win over Thailand's Petchnamchai Sor Sakulwong.
At his best Hara is a fantastically speedy fighter. He's not the most powerful or the strongest but he's very highly skilled and amazingly quick with his hands and his feet. In fact he could well be regarded as one of the sports fastest fighters right now. In terms of ability he's certainly more technically capable than Takayama but much less proven and his loss to Tanaka has perhaps shown that he's just below world class.
Coming in to this bout the key question is “what does Takayama have left?” If Takayama is 90% of the fighter he once was we suspect he'll stop Hara late, with the challenger tiring out in the later rounds. If Takayama however has slipped slightly further than this becomes a bout that really is too hard to call.
The one thing we're sure is that the styles of the two men should gel brilliantly and we should see both men giving their all in a thriller. The aggressive style of Takayama should force the action with Hara looking to create space, box and counter the aggressive champion. As a result we're expecting a potential FOTY.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
Fahlan returns to Osaka and looks to become a second generation champion against the "Lightning Kid" Takayama
December 31st 2013 will be a date that will forever live on in the memory of Thailand's Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (27-3-1, 15). It was the date he scored his career defining victory, a shock upset of the previously unbeaten Ryo Miyazaki in Osaka. It was the date that Fahlan put his name on the boxing map and become, for a few moments, a man with an exciting future ahead of him and several lucrative paydays lined up for him.
Less than 28 months later Fahlan will return to the scene of the crime and hunt a second major win at the Bodymaker Colosseum. This time around he's not just fighting to make a name for himself but also for world honours as he looks to win the IBF Minimumweight title and reach the pinnacle of the sport, like his father. In fact he looks to claim the same title his father held back in the early 1990's.
Fahlan Sakkreerin Sr won the IBF Minimumweight title back in 1990 when he stopped Eric Chavez. He would subsequently defend the belt 7 times, including a rematch with Chavez and a bout with Pretty Boy Lucas, before losing the belt in September 1992. Just 9 months after Sr lost the title Jr was born.
Fahlan Jr was an unknown when he traveled to Japan at the end of 2013. He had never faced anyone of note and had only scored wins over novices and the typical "also rans" that frequent Thailand and regular losers, such as Madit Sada, Samuel Tehuayo and Wilber Andogan. When he left Japan he was a well known fighter with some asking whether or not he could become a world champion. At the time it seemed possible, he was just 20 years old and still developing, both as a man and as a fighter. Time was on his side and the win over Miyazaki netted him world rankings with all 4 world title bodies.
Sadly since the fight with Miyazaki we've seen Fahlan has struggle to recapture any major form, having gone 4-1-1 with a loss to the then 1-0 Takuma Inoue and a disappointing draw with Tatsuya Fukuhara. In all 4 of those fights he has looked limited and lacking that something special. He has however won the IBF Asia Light Flyweight title and used his connections with Kiatkreerin to help enhance his IBF ranking.
Unfortunately for Fahlan the task ahead of him is a difficult one as he takes on the world class Katsunari Takayama (28-7-0-1, 11), a multi-time world champion who has been one of the true warriors of Japanese boxing over the last decade or so. Not only has he been in a number of brilliant fights but he has also been happy to travel for his defining fights as he's created an enviable legacy for himself.
Guided by trainer-come-mentor Hiroaki Nakada we've seen Takayama claim the WBC, IBF, WBO and WBA interim titles in a career that really has been a wonderful and often over-looked one. Sadly he has often been over-shadowed by other Osakan based fighters, such as the more popular Kazuto Ioka, though has genuinely been a credit to the sport and a man capable exciting fans with his action and perpetually aggressive style which makes him a must-watch fighter.
In the ring Takayama is a light punching machine who has shown a willingness to take one to land one, or more often than not a willingness to take 5 to land 5 in wild exchanges that have dominated fights. Sometimes it's not worked for him and he's had to rely on his toughness to see out some real worries, as seen against Roman Gonzalez and Nkosinathi Joyi other times however his toughness, work rate and aggression have been more than enough to help him earn exciting and hard fought wins, such as his 2013 victory over Mario Rodriguez, in Rodriguez's homeland of Mexico.
Takayama is one of our favourites. We've rarely tried to hide that. Though he's also a flawed fighter. Not only has he shown he's happy to take a shot but he often takes a lot of them, his defense is flawed, technically he's a relatively limited “boxer” and in terms of power he's certainly not much of a puncher, in fact he's only stopped one of his last 9 opponents. He often makes up for those flaws with his insane work-rate though he's certainly not unbeatable.
At the end of 2014 we saw Takayama scoring a relatively rare stoppage as he defeated compatriot Go Odaira in a bout for the WBO and IBF titles, which were both vacant. Since then Takayama has vacated the WBO though the big hope is that if he's successful here he'll be getting a shot at Hekkie Budler in November to crown the consensus #1 fighter in the division. That means their is a lot riding on this bout for the “Lightning Kid” though of course if Fahlan can upset him then the Thai could well get the opportunity for the divisional super fight. The stakes really couldn't be much higher.
Coming in to the bout the logical winner, and massive favourite, will be Takayama. He has the experience, he has the skill, he has the desire and the proven world class ability. Worryingly however he was being out boxed by Odaira last time out, prior to the stoppage, and he took a lot of damage in the bout before that, a 12 round FOTY contender with Francisco Rodriguez Jr. When you consider many of his 293 career rounds have been fought at a very high level it's fair to say his body is going to have signs of wear and tear. The same cannot be said of Fahlan who has just over half as many professional rounds and has, generally, fought at a much lower level. Also in Fahlan's favour is his size, given that he's a career Light Flyweight, and his youth. Both of which he'll be hoping to make the most of against Takayama.
In the ring we expect this bout to be action packed. There will be a lot of leather thrown and a lot of back and forth. If Takayama is feeling the effects of his long and hard career things could be very interesting. The general feeling is that Takayama is showing signs of being slightly on the slide. If he is he may feel the weight of Fahlan more than expected, his output might be less intense than usual and he might have a few hairy moments. We suspect the champion will come out on top though we wouldn't shocked to see him struggle at times with his much younger and fresher foe in what will be compelling from the first bell to the last.
(Image courtesy of Thairec.com)
Boxing really does seem to throw out some oddities. Often we get judging and refereeing that leaves a lot to be desired, at the end of the 2014 however we get an oddity by which two world titles will be unified despite the fact neither man involved in the bout goes into the contest as a current champion. The bout, which will be for the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles, has come about after both titles were vacated by Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr and although it's an oddity we suspect it'll be one of the most entertaining fights in recent memory.
The bout in question will see former 3-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (27-7-0-1, 10) battling against Japanese champion Go Odaira (11-3-3, 1). and as you can tell from their records neither man is a puncher though both are tough, active and all action with puncher numbers that many fighters could only dream of.
Originally the bout was set to be just for the IBF title, which Rodriguez had vacated a while back whilst considering his options for the future. Soon after Rodrgiuez then vacated the WBO belt with it becoming obvious that he was leaving the division due to weight struggle. That then allowed the WBO to put their title on the line giving a very peculiar situation, and one made stranger by the fact Rodriguez unified the titles with a victory over Takayama.
Whilst Takayama did lose to Rodriguez, in a genuine 2014 FOTY contender, he is a bonafide world class Minimumweight. He is universally regarded in the top 10 and may well be the stand out fighter currently without a title. That may seem hard to believe considering his record but Takayama has always shown a willingness to fight the best and, as a result, has suffered losses to elite level fighters. Not only has he been fighting the best but he has also shown a willingness to travel to the champions back yard where he has certainly had some misfortune go against him.
Going through the record of Takayama reads like a who's who of the top Minimumweights from the last 10 years. It includes the likes of Isaac Bustos, Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Of those men it was was only really Roman Gonzalez that dominated Takayama, and in fact had Takayama all over the place late in the bout. Not only doe these bouts prove Takayama belongs at the world level but they'll have also helped him develop as a fighter giving him rounds, and rounds, of top level experience.
At best Takayama is capable of boxing and moving, as he did wonderfully against Vergilio Silvano, though he often seems to get himself involved in fan friendly tear ups showing a real heart and determination to not only win but excite fans whilst winning. Sadly for a man who enjoys a brawl Takayama does lack real power but makes up for it in terms of his insane toughness, workrate and his refusal to just lose.
Whilst Takayama is well known by fans of the lower weights due to his bouts against the crem de la crem the same cannot be said for Odaira who is completely unknown to those who don't follow the Japanese scene.
Prior to this year Odaira was a genuine unknown, even for those who followed Japanese boxing religiously. He was 8-3-3 (1), had never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 8 rounds and, aside from a victory over Takashi Kunishige, and a loss to the then unproven Ryuji Hara, there was little on his record to talk about. This year however has been a genuine career year already for Odaira who has won the Japanese Minimumweight title, with a decision over Masashi Tada, and defended it twice by over-coming Yuma Iwahashi and Hiroya Yamamoto.
In all 3 of his wins this year Odaira has looked like a fighter who is improving and developing a real understand of what is it, to be a professional boxer. He seems to know his weaknesses and his strengths and has really began fighting like a man who knows who he needs to do to make the most of his career. That has seen him focussing on his natural speed, his movement and his energy. He now fights a lot like his manager Susumu Hanagata and is always on the move, always looking to pump out the jab and always trying to be busy. He knows he's not going to knock fighters out but knows there's more than one way to skin a cat and winning with crisp punching is just as good as winning by knockout. Notably the style did take Hanagata to a world title back in the 1970's.
Although Odaira has speed to burn he is stepping up in class, notably for this bout and really hasn't shared the ring with anyone quite like Takayama. That's not to say he can't hold his own but that he is stepping up massively for this bout and that can come with a lot of pressure, especially given that this will be his first near the top of a major show with fans around the world tuning in.
What we're expecting here is for both men to begin the contest with boxing in mind. Both will punch on the move and try to work their way in. It's what happens in the second stage of the contest that really decides how this bout goes. If Takayama can hold his own in terms of boxing with Odaira this could be a really high paced boxing contest with both throw copious amounts of jabs. Alternatively if Takayama feels he can't box the boxer then he'll bring the fight and we'll have Takayama trying to brawl with Odaira in what would make for one of the most action packed fights of the year.
If it does turn into a brawl then the action will be insane. Neither man will be expected to hurt the other and will feel they need to out work the other man leading to long and exciting trading sequences between two men. When they happen we suspect Takayama will get the upper hand and will do enough to impress the judges with his more varied assaults up close.
If the bout doesn't break out into a brawl we suspect Takayama takes a close and very competitive decision, if he can force the brawl and exchanges then he'll take home a clearer win.
We suspect Takayama will win and become the first 4-time world champion from Japan and the first Japanese fighter to claim a version of all 4 belts. If Odaira wins however then he has a serious claim for being the breakthrough fighter of the year, even surpassing Amnat Ruenroeng in that respect. It really would complete an amazing year for Yokohama man.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
This coming weekend's major fight, at least for us anyway, is in Mexico as Japan's incredibly brave and criminally under-rated Katsunari Takayama (27-6-0-1, 10) attempts to unify his IBF Minimumweight title with the WBO title currently held by the big punching Francisco Rodriguez Jr (14-2, 10). The bout, one of the very few Minimumweight title unifications, is a major one for both men who are both looking to claim that they are the best at 105lbs.
For Takayama this bout is a special one. It's his chance to became the first ever Japanese fighter to claim a "Grandslam" and to have won a version of all 4 of the major titles, thus achieving one of the goals he set out to accomplish when he returned to the sport after his short lived retirement. It's certainly a big ask but it's something he seems confident of doing.
For Rodriguez this continues his rapid rise through the sport following his victory over Merlito Sabillo earlier this year. It was that victory over Sabillo that saw Rodriguez winning his WBO belt and announcing himself as a serious force in the Minimumweight division.
Takayama, for those who haven't followed his career, has been one of the true "will fight anyone, anywhere" type fighters. This has seen him travelling to South Africa 3 times, including two fights Nkosinathi Joyi, the Philippines to fight Mateo Handig and to Mexico to fight Mario Rodriguez. In total Takayama has fought just 2 of his last 7 bouts in his native Japan.
Not only has Takayama fought top fighters on the road but he has also fought top fighters in his native Japan. This has included a fight with the brilliant Roman Gonzalez, Yutaka Niida and Eagle Den Junlaphan. In fact going through Takayama's record there are very few fighters that he didn't fight in the Minimumweight division such as Akira Yaegashi and Ivan Calderon.
For Rodriguez this will be his fourth fight with a notable foe. As mentioned above he holds an outstanding victory over Merlito Sabillo and he also holds a win over Manuel Vargas whilst his most recent loss came, via stoppage, to the sensational Roman Gonzalez. It's arguably the Gonzalez fight, in Nicaragua, that told more about Rodriguez than any other. It showed he was tough, despite being stopped, that his work rate was solid and that for a 20 year old he had real potential.
Young, powerful and strong we really do think that Rodriguez is a serious threat to Takayama and could well upset the popular and talented Japanese fighter much like he upset Sabillo. He is a pressure fighter with a growing confidence and ever developing skills that could help make him one of the divisional kingpins over the next few years, if he stays at 105lbs which it's self is a debate and a half.
Going for Takayama however are a number of things, not least his experience against the divisional elite. He is also one of the toughest and bravest fighters out there and if nothing else he has shown an ability to survive, in fact his sole KO loss, way back in 2003, came from over-confidence. Most importantly however is his energy and against a pressure fighter that could well be the key for him to succeed. He has proven capable of being able to fight at a great pace from the opening round to the final bell and, despite being hurt though his career he has been able to bounce back and recover excellently.
Although we tend to feel Takayama has a lot of advantages going in to the fight he has also had major issues in the build up to the bout. Firstly he saw his trainer, manager and mentor Hiroaki Nakade spend time in hospital early in his training camp. That was because Nakade needed an aneurysm removing and whilst he seems to have recovered from surgery it will have been an unwelcome distraction for Takayama. Another problem that has troubled his camp has been a cut over his right eye which was accidentally opened by Naoya Inoue in sparring. That cut, suffered just weeks before the fight, saw several planned spars cancelled and will have seriously thrown a spanner into Takayama's training plans. Thankfully it appears that that facial damage has healed though it is a target for Rodriguez to aim for and the talk is that Takayama really struggled in the spar with Inoue.
We'd like to think that Takayama will win, though we know he's in a very tough contest here and we'd certainly not be surprised at all to see him pushed all the way in a very hard bout. Of course bouts that fought on foreign soil do come with the risk of the judges being swayed by the home fighter and sadly we see that being an issue here. Takayama, for all his skills, isn't a fighter who stops opponents and we'd be shocked if he manages to see off Rodriguez which means it's likely this one is going 12 and we think Rodriguez will get the nod, albeit a controversial one.
(Image courtesy of http://nakazatoboxing.com)
When we get asked about our favourite fighter we often list the names that everyone will enjoy watching. Guys like Takashi Miura, Manny Pacquiao, Takashi Uchiyama, and Shinsuke Yamanaka are amongst the first names we come out with. Another is IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (26-6-0-1, 10) who has the old school mentality of fighting anyone to prove how good he is.
Takayama's record bares the scars of his attitude to boxing. If you fight the best often enough you will lose fights and that's what he's done to the likes of Eagle Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez and Nkosinathi Joyi. At the time of fighting those men 3 of them were regarded as the best fighter in the Minimumweight division.
It's the attitude of Takayama that has made us fans. He's shown a willingness to fight the best, he's called for unification fights repeatedly, he's chased the IBF title, that he now holds, around the globe and he seems intent on claiming the WBO belt to become the first Japanese fighter to have held all 4 world titles. It's a fresh attitude, it's brave and it's great. If more fighters had the same mentality we'd have a much better sport.
It's not just the mentality of Takayama out of the ring that is so good but also inside the ring. At his best he's a buzzsaw with movement, toughness, bravery and work rate. He may not have the power of Pacquiao but stylistically there are a lot of similarities with what made Pacquiao so popular.
On May 7th Takayama attempts to defend his IBF title for the second time as he battles challenger Shin Ono (17-5-2, 2) in what we view as a bit of a stay busy defence against his countryman and whilst that sounds harsh it's not supposed to be, we just think Takayama is in a league of 2 with South African Hekkie Budler as his only real rival.
Ono is a good fighter. He is a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion and he holds notable wins over both Yu Kimura and Xiong Zhao Zhong as well as an unbeaten record dating back to 2011.
In a perfect world Zhong wouldn't have lost his WBC world title to Oswoldo Novoa earlier this year. That would have left a much anticipated unification between Takayama and Zhong. Instead Takayama is fighting the man who last beat Zhong before the Chinese fighter became a world champion. It's not ideal but it does make a little bit of sense.
In regards to how the fight is expected to go. Ono is a decent enough fighter to make Takayama work to defend his title, but isn't good enough to really trouble him. The challenger lacks the traits needed to beat Takayama, the timing, skills, power and speed. Ono is good enough to be world ranked, with the IBF #10 ranking making a lot more sense than the WBO #6 ranking he also holds, but the southpaw has never been in with someone as complete as the champion who we expect will take a clear, though hard fought, decision to retain his title.
We're hoping that if things go as expected we'll see Takayama meet Budler later this year in an IBF/WBA unification bout in either Japan, South Africa or Monaco.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe Gym)
When we talk about great fighters we like to think that the very best make their name on the road. It's all too easy to stay at home and pick up easy pay days whilst not fighting the best available.
One Japanese fighter who has been on the road and proven his worth against fighters all around the world is Katsunari Takayama (25-6-0-1, 10). Katsunari, a true road warrior has been on a 4 year journey around the world fighting in South Africa, the Philippines and Mexico as he persued the IBF Minimumweight title around the planet.
Last time out Takayama finally got his hands on the red and gold IBF title as he defeated Mario Rodriguez via decision in a war in Sinaloa. It was further proof of the type of fighter Katsunari is, entertaining, gutsy and a warrior. In defeating Rodriguez, Takayama became just Japan's second ever IBF champion behind Satoshi Shingaki and became of very few Japanese fighters to have claimed a world title whilst fighting away fro m home.
Fighting in Japan for the first time since 2009, and fighting in his ome town of Osaka for the first time since 2008 Takayama will be defending his title for the first time on December 3rd as he takes on Filipino challenger Vergilio Silvano (17-2-1, 10).
Silvano is a name that few fans outside of Asia will have heard of though he is ranked by both the WBO, #3 at Light Flyweight, and the IBF, #6 at Minimumweight. Those world rankings, whilst never truly accurate, do suggest that Silvano is a real threat to Takayama.
Footage of the Filipino is somewhat difficult to come by, especially when it comes to recent footage of him. From what footage we have seen however he is a southpaw who is a little bit taller than Takayama. He of course lacks the big fight experience of the Japanese fighter though has got experience in going 12 rounds as he did last time out against Jetly Purisima.
Silvano started his career 2-2-1 though has since gone on a 15 fight winning streak. These 15 wins have seen him going 4-0 (2) in title fights and have included him winning the WBO Oriental Light Flyweight title and the Philippines Boxing Federation (PBF) Light Flyweight title.
For Takayama his record in title fights is less impressive though he has been both an IBF and WBC Minimumweight champion and a WBA interim champion. It's this level of experience that should seperate the men.
We imagine Silvano will start well but the relentless assault of Takayama will start to take it's toll in the middle rounds as Silvano is slowly ground down. The Filipino will, by the later rounds be struggling as Takayama takes a clear but hard fought victory over a man certain to come again and grow from defeat.
Interestingly this bout appears to have it's own poster courtesy of Katsunari's promoterwith the fight being dubbed "Lightning K is Back".
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.