The Lightweight division has been a rather interesting one in recent but one which hasn't had the super fights we'd been hoping for. Instead of top fights we've had a mix of solid contests, and really lacklustre ones. The one man who had stood out as consistently facing top contenders is Venezuelan star Jorge Linares (43-3, 27), the current WBA, Ring Magazine and WBC “Diamond” champion. Over the last three years he has defeated Kevin Mitchell, Anthony Crolla, twice, and Luke Campbell and this coming Saturday he looks to record his next defense, as he takes on Filipino foe Mercito Gesta (31-1-2, 17).
The 32 year old champion, dubbed "el niño del oro", or "the golden boy", has long been a world class fighter. He won his first world title back in July 2007, when he stopped Oscar Larios for the WBC Featherweight title, and he would subsequently claim the WBA Super Featherweight before winning the WBC Lightweight and later the WBA Lightweight title. What has helped him to be so successful is the fact he is one of the most naturally gifted fighters in the sport. He is hugely skilled, everything he does looks incredibly fluid and he combines that with under-rated power and some of the best combination punching in the sport.
Whilst wonderfully skilled Linares does have issues with durability and arguably concentration and stamina. His losses have all been stoppages, and all against fighters he was fancied to beat, Juan Carlos Salgado, Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson. Those losses have seen his chin being cracked, his energy running out and his skin ripping. Whilst he's a wonderful fighter to watch there is always a worry that he will cut, or be caught. There is also a worry that he will become bored in the ring, something we've seen a number of times, though hasn't yet cost him a win.
The 30 year old challenger has been a professional since 2003 and was tipped to be one of the major stars of Filipino boxing, with some dubbing him the next Pacquiao. Sadly though Gesta has failed to ever live up to that hype and looked totally confused and lost in his only other world title fight, a 2012 bout against the then IBF Lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez. The performance against Vazquez wasn't just bad, but it was confusing and weird, with Gesta regularly looking up to the big screen and looking disinterested, in what was a potentially career changing bout. That loss was followed by more than a year out of the ring, though he has since gone 5-0-1 (3), scoring a draw with Carlos Molina and wins over the likes of Miguel Angel Mendoza and Martin Honorio.
In the ring Gesta is a pretty good fighter, but not one who deserved the early career hype that he had. A lot of the hype was because he had debuted at the age of 16 and looked very promising as a prospect, but didn't have the big amateur career and it wasn't long until there was some flaws showing up in his performances. He was winning bouts, for the most part, and even fighting in the US, but a lot of the time he was failing to shine and wasn't being given real tests. To his credit howeber when he was stepped up he looked better than he had earlier, with wins against Oscar Meza, Ricardo Dominguez and Ty Barnett. But totally fell apart mentally against Vazquez.
Gesta is a southpaw with some nice skills and could be a test at 135lbs for many contenders. But he's not a particularly heavy handed fighter, or a high action fighter. He has a nice variety of shots, all of which look sharp and damaging, but lacks intensity and defensively he doesn't look anything great. That isn't helped by the fact his chin isn't the best, and he has been down a number of times during his career.
The best Gesta has a chance against the worst Linares, but the reality here is that Linares should school the Filipino, who may well end up suffering his first stoppage loss, if Linares wishes to make a statement. There really is only a very slim, punchers chance for Gesta here.
Just hours after Teiken's exciting Takashi Miura defends his WBC Super Featherweight title against Billy Dib we will see his stablemate Takahiro Ao (27-3-1, 12) attempt to become a very rare 3-weight world from Japan. Ao however has a much harder task than Miura and will be on the road as he fights in Las Vegas against the tough and battle hardened Raymundo Beltran (29-7-1, 17), who is himself hoping to win a world title at the third time of asking.
Of the two men it's fair to say Beltran is probably the more well known in terms of international renown. He's not a superstar of boxing or anything like that but he has been featured in some notable bouts which have been televised in the west. Those bouts include his draw with Ricky Burns in the UK and his loss to Terence Crawford in the US, his only experiences at the world level. Despite those losses he does hold a number of notable wins including decisions over Arash Usmanee, Ji-Hoon Kim and Henry Lundy.
Aged 33 Beltran is an American based Mexican fighter who came up through the school of hard knocks. He debuted back in 1999, when he was just 17, and suffered 2 early defeats as he began to learn his trade. The long journey of Beltran was mostly ignored until the last few years when he began to develop a “hard luck” story with controversial losses to Sharif Bogere and Luis Ramos Jr, both of whom were unbeaten going into the bouts. Those close losses were followed by good performances as he developed some unexpected career momentum and later got his first world title fight. Unfortunately it ended in a highly controversial draw against Ricky Burns.
Although Beltran has had a hard journey in terms of his bouts he is also well known for being one of the preferred sparring partners of Manny Pacquiao. It's no shock that Beltran's development really picked up when he began sharing the ring with Pacquiao, and despite stark differences in their styles it's clear that that sparring has helped Beltran build both his confidence and his skills.
In the ring Beltran is a tough nut to crack. He's an offensively minded pressure fighter who isn't the most powerful, not the biggest puncher but he's tough, gutsy and hits hard enough to get the respect of anyone. He's the sort of fighter that other boxers don't want to fight, in fact fighting with Beltran is a clear and obvious mistake. On the inside Beltran is a nightmare to fight and knows how to go to war however at range he often comes off second best.
As an amateur Ao was genuine a stand out. His reported amateur record stood at 76-3 (27) with 6 titles won on the Japanese High School circuit, a then record feat. It was due to his amateur credentials that Ao signed with Teiken ahead of his debut, when he was just 19 years old. Less than 2 years later he was in 10 round fights against solid fighters like Yoshinori Miyata.
Although Ao was moved relatively quickly it did take until 2007 for him to fight in his first title fight, a Japanese Featherweight bout with Koji Umetsu. Umetsu had won the title 5 months earlier, narrowly beating Kazuhisa Watanabe, but was unable to over-come Ao who took a narrow win over the defending champion. As the Japanese title holder Ao defended his belt 3 times, defeating Keisuke Akiba and Noriyuki Ueno before fighting to a draw with the then unbeaten Hiroyuki Enoki. The Enoki bout wasn't just a Japanese title defense but was a Japanese-OPBF unification bout that also acted as a WBA world title eliminator. Despite the draw Ao did get his first world title shot, a shot at WBC Featherweight champion Oscar Larios. Unfortunately for the Japanese fight it also saw him suffer his first defeat. Despite the loss Ao would claim a world title 5 months later when he avenged the loss to claim the title.
Sadly Ao's reign didn't last long and he lost the belt just 4 months after winning it, coming up short against Elio Rojas. That loss was put down to weight issues and he immediately made the move to Super Featherweight where he quickly won the WBC title, defeating touted German based fighter Vitali Tajbert. As the Super Featherweight title holder Ao made 3 defenses of his title, including a notable decision win over the very talented Terdsak Kokietgym, though his reign was surprisingly ended in October 2012 by Gamaliel Diaz. That loss was again put down to weight issues and lead to Ao moving to Lightweight where he began the search for a 3rd weight world title.
Stylewise Ao is a boxer at heart. He's a talented southpaw boxer who has nice speed and throws nice combinations off his jab whilst also having a sharp and educated southpaw left. He's got solid speed, technique and timing though he's really lacking lacking in power, especially at the top level where he has scored only 1 stoppage in 8 world title bouts. What he is good at however is controlling the distance and pace of a bout with clever footwork and sharp accurate shots from range, it's not always exciting but is something he has developed after being dropped a few times early in his career.
The key to this bout is the style match up of the two men. If Ao can keep the bout at range, following the gameplan set by Terence Crawford, then the odds are he'll manage to rack up the points needed to win. That however is easier said than done and Beltran has made his name out of his ability to apply a lot of intense pressure and he'll be looking to rush Ao and force the bout to be fought at close quarters. If Beltran can do that there is only going to be one winner.
Who ever manages to enforce their gameplan is almost nailed on to win here though it's unlikely either man will have things all their own way. Early on it seems likely Ao will have his best success with the middle of the bout being the most interesting in terms of competitive action before Beltran manages to close the fight late. Who manages to claim the middle rounds will almost certainly take the bout, and that is the part of the fight where the game plans of the two men will decide the outcome.
Unfortunately for Ao we suspect it'll be Beltran who manages to impose himself in the middle and that the work rate he forces will tire the Japanese fighter out and slow his footwork. If that happens then Beltran is likely to claim a close and very competitive decision. We would however love to see Ao claim the victory in such a high profile bout and really put himself on the map for those who have over-looked him this far in to his career.
This year ends with a bang in Japan with 8 world title fights over the spaces of 2 days. OF those 8 bouts only one doesn't feature a Japanese born fighter, that is the WBC Lightweight title fight between the Venezuelan born-Japanese based Jorge Linares (37-3, 24) and Mexico's Javier Prieto (24-7-2, 18). The bout is for the vacant title and the Teiken managed Linares will be hoping to becomea 3-weight world champion, adding the WBC Lightweight title to previous reigns at Featherweight and Super Featherweight.
As a professional Linares has been adopted by Japanese fans. Of his 40 previous fights 22 have been in Japan, he lives in Japan, speaks Japanese and has long been a favourite of Japanese fight fans. In the ring he has shown traits that Japanese fans are familiar with, in fact in many ways he is similar to Japan's very own Hozumi Hasegawa. Like Hasegawa he has shown frailty, being dropped numerous times, he has fantastic handspeed, throws lovely combinations and is amazingly well skilled.
In the ring Linares is one of the sports most beautiful boxers to watch. Offensively he has it all. Sadly however his offensive brilliance isn't matched by his toughness which is questionable, at best. All 3 of his losses to date have come by stoppage. One of those was a shocking opening round loss to Juan Carlos Salgado in one of the major upsets of 2009, one was a bloody 11th round TKO loss to Antonio DeMarco in a bout Linares looked in control of whilst the third was a cuts loss to Sergio Thompson. In all 3 losses it's seemed like Linares broke when he was hit back and questions remain not just about his toughness but also his heart and stamina.
Whilst it may seem silly to question his stamina there is an amazing stat regarding Linaes, he has never gone 12 rounds, His longest bout to date was the loss to DeMarco. It was the only time in 40 fights that Linares has gone beyond the 10th round of a fight. For all the offensive qualities he has, and his experience, there are still a lot of questions that we don't know the answer to.
Although there questions about Linares it's fair to say he is a much more known quantity than Preito who, in the eyes of many, is getting a very undeserved opportunity. Aged 27 Prieto is slightly younger than Linares though hasn't fought any where near the same level of competition.
Regarded as a puncher Prieto is dangerous, at least at the lower levels. Sadly however it's hard to know just how good he actually is. His best win, a decision over Vicente Mosquera, looks like an anomaly and he has failed to beat anyone else of note, losing to the likes of Ali Chebah, Edgar Puerta and Roberto Ortiz whilst being held to back-to-back draw by Ivan Cano. Those results make us question just how legitimate Preito's power actually is.
As well questions regarding Prieto's power and credentials we also aren't convinced by his skills or durability. In the ring he looks big and powerful but very slow, incredibly basic. It seems he has gotten as far as he has with a lot of luck as technically he does very little impressively and often stalks with out cutting the ring off or applying real pressure. In 33 fights he has never shown real world class ability or the potential to ever be world class.
From what we've seen of the two men Prieto has just 1 thing Linares doesn't have, the proven ability to go 12 rounds. That's something that the Mexican has done 5 times, winning 2 of those bouts, drawing two and losing one. That advantage however, may be his sole advantage of Linares.
In our view this is a stylistic dream for Linares, fighting a slower, wilder, open opponent who is there to be tagged clean at will repeatedly. The one danger Linares has is being caught by a wild shot that either cuts him or leaves him ready to be finished. In all honesty however Linares shouldn't get caught by something like that from Prieto who is likely to be kept at range by Linares footwork. What we're expecting is for Linares to fight at his pace, if not a little slower than usual, box and move, whilst making Prieto look silly for 12 rounds. Yes we're suspect a 12 round decision win for Linares. The Venezuelan may have a few hairy moments if he gets complacent.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Lightweight division is one of the oddest in boxing today. None of the champions right now are big global names and, other than WBC champion Omar Figueroa, none of them have the style to become must watch fighters. Ricky Burns, WBO champion, has a loyal Scottish following but lacks the power and even the skills to become a major player on the world scene, Richar Abril, WBA champion, is highly skilled but could bore the pants off an Inuit and IBF champion Miguel Vazquez (33-3, 13) has been MIA for the last year.
On February 22nd Vazquez finally returns to action for his first bout since beating Filipino Mercito Gesta back in December 2012. The talented and slippery Mexican, who is a real pain to fight, will be hoping to make the 6th defense of his world title as he battles unbeaten Russian Denis Shafikov (33-0-1, 18) in Macau on the "Ring of Gold" card.
Although he has 3 losses to his name Viazquez is highly skilled and all 3 of those losses came before he was 22. More importantly, regarding those 3 losses, they all came to major players on the boxing scene with 2 coming to Saul Alvarez and the other to Timothy Bradley. Lets be honest, losses to those two men can be excused considering what they have gone on to do between them.
At his best Vazquez, a bit like Shingo Wake, is a clever fighter who boxes on the move, makes opponents commit and then tags them with a sharp counter. It may not always look pretty but he has perfected the style to the point of making dangerous punchers, including J-Hoon Kim and Breidis Prescott, look silly on a regular basis.
Unfortunately at his worst Vazquez can become a runner. A man unwilling to engage on either the front foot or the back foot and will instead avoid pressure with his negativity. This almost cost him against Marvin Quintero in what was one of the poorest title fights from the last few years.
As poor as the Quintero fight was it was one that possibly showed up Vazquez's faults. He can cope with pressure from limited clueless fights, like Kim and Leonardo Zappavigna but against the intelligent pressure of Quintero he really struggled to create space or get his own punches off.
Shafikov, although not the most rounded of fighters, is an intelligent pressure fighter. He comes forward pretty relentlessly but carefully and is happy to take one or two to get inside when he needs to. His natural strength is incredible and although he'll be fighting for a Lightweight title here some have talked about him becoming a genuine threat at Light Welterweight if that's what he was wanting to do.
As well as being a strong and intense fighter Shafikov also has the ace of being a southpaw giving him yet another string to his bow.
One of the biggest issues with Shafikov is the fact he's a short Lightweight. Stood at just 5'5" he will be giving away notable reach and height to Vazquez who will be hoping to make the most of the size differential. Despite this Shafikov won't be needing to do too much new having already beaten taller fighters including Scotland's Lee McAllister. Yes there is a world of difference between Vazquez and Lee McAllister but the Russian has proven he can fight taller fighters and world class fighters with wins already against Giuseppe Lauri, Brunet Zamora and Alisher Rahimov.
Whilst this will be Shafikov's first world title bout, and he is a 9/4 under-dog at the time of writing, we actually see him pulling off the upset. Quintero, who was only marginally taller than Shafikov, was also a southpaw and it was the stance and mindset there that gave Vazquez a tough time. We imagine that Shafikov will use his physical strength and toughness to make life even more difficult for the champion who, after 14 months out of the ring, will feel that pressure more than ever.
We know Vazquez is good but we really think Shafikov is going to prove that he is just as good, if not better.
When we think about boxing in Asia we do typically think of Asian fighters. Fighters from Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines. What we often forget however is that numerous international fighters are now based in, managed by or promoted by Asian stables
On such man is the highly talented Venezuelan Jorge Linares (34-3, 22), a man who has been affiliated with Teiken promotions through out his career.
Linares returns to Japan on November 10th as he attempts to become a 3-weight champion and avenge the demons of an opening round blow out at the hands of Juan Carlos Salgado 4 years in what was his last world title fight in Japan.
It's been a long time since Linares was beaten by Salgado and since then the once promising career of Linares has failed to ever really reach the heights expected of him. Sure he has won 7 contests but he has also lost 2, in fact he's he's lost in his two highest profile contests since the loss to Salgado.
This time the risk of Linares being stopped is slim as he takes on WBA Lightweight champion Richar Abril (18-3-1, 8) a light punching but highly talented Cuban. In all honesty a stoppage loss here for Linares could well be the end of the road for him.
Aged just 28 Linares has been a fighter on the radar for what feels like an eternity. That's because he's been in and around the world level for over 6 years dating back to his first world title victory, a stoppage of Oscar Larios for the WBC Featherweight title. Since then he has been in a further 5 world title fights, winning 3 and losing 2.
On the flipside of that is the fact Abril is a bit of a late comer to the world scene. The Cuban only had his first world title fight 2 years ago and has only fought in 3 of them so far. Aged 31 he is older than Linares, though he's also tougher taking on, and in the eyes of many defeating, the rampaging Brandon Rios.
When we talk about the two fighters they are both boxers, but both entirely different.
Linares is a genuine joy to watch. He has quick hands, great movement, blistering combinations and whilst he's not a banger he can force stoppages through sheer work rate. On the reverse he's been seen as fragile both mentally and physically and he can be bullied around as well as worn out due to his work rate. Gorgeous to watch but certainly not a "warrior" at heart.
On the other hand Abril can be awful to watch. He can hold, he can wrestle, he can make things very messy and tedious. At the same time however he can pick a guy apart with an accurate jab, an efficient straight and land some amazingly crisp and sharp shots around a fighter defenses. At his best Abril is a fantastic pure boxer and his worst he's a cure for insomnia. Strangely we can see both sides of Abril in the same round which can lead to a lot of frustration watching him.
If fights were won on looks alone Linares would already have this one won. In the ring however the Cuban will make this very difficult. If Abril is allowed to get his jab going and allowed to hold when he wants to to slow the pace the Cuban will likely retain his title. If Linares however can set the pace for the first 7 or 8 rounds then Teiken will have managed to guide him to a third divisional title.
This bout really does depend on who can dictate the tempo of the fight. A slow fight is Abril's a fast fight is Linares's.
With that that said however Linares will almost certainly know that this will be his last major chance. He needs a win. That sort of pressure can see a fighter performing to their absolute best and if Linares does, then he takes this via a competitive clear decision. If the pressure gets to Linares than Abril gets this via a close decision.
Courtesy of Boxrec.com
July 27th appears on paper to be one of the most exciting nights in boxing so far this year. Whether you're from Asia, Europe, North America or South America there is something there for you.
For us the most exciting bout of the night sees Japanese veteran Nihito Arakawa (24-2-1, 16) taking on the explosive and highly entertaining youngster Omar Figueroa (21-0-1, 17) for the WBC "interim" Lightweight title.
This is a bout that screams "war" to us and of course we all love an in ring war.
For those who haven't seen Figueroa lets talk about him first. He's a very talented and very aggressive youngster who has started to create a real buzz in recent bouts. In his most notable victory to date he blew out Abner Cotto in just 177 seconds.
The explosiveness and fast starting nature of Figueroa has seen him scoring 8 opening round victories and 17 inside 3 rounds (including 1 DQ). It appears that if you can ride out the early storm of Figueroa you can test him, though so far only Arturo Quintero has actually managed to really take him close as he fought Figueroa to a draw.
At 23 Figueroa is not the complete article. He's very promising but also pretty untested and still relatively wild and wasteful. So far he's managed to get away with his flaws (other than the draw with Quintero) but he is stepping up notably here.
Aged 31 Arakawa is a 9 year veteran and despite his 27 bouts he is still referred to as the "Baby Faced Sniper". He's known to be a very tough fighter and both of his losses to date have been controversial.
The first of Arakawa's losses came in 2006 to Yoshitaka Kato via a majority decision whilst his most recent loss was last year in a technical decision to Daniel Estrada in Mexico. The loss to Estrada was highly controversial with Estrada winning a technical following injuries that appeared to come from punches (and should have forced a TKO).
Arakawa is not only tough but also defensively smart taking a lot of shots on the arms. He's awkward and can apply intelligent pressure whilst looking to land his powerful straight left. He's not the most active fighter but appears to be almost impossible to discourage and with the damage his shots can do he'll be dangerous through out the fight.
What we effectively have here is a fast starting youngster against a gradually grinding veteran. If Figueroa can't take out Arakawa with in the opening few rounds he'll be seriously tested in the middle and latter stages of the bout when the Japanese fighter starts to connect with his heavy left.
Figueroa has only been beyond 5 rounds 5 times in his career, he's only been 10 rounds once and has never been the championship distance. With such untested stamina we are going with with Arakawa to break him down down the stretch. Sure Figueroa might manage to take Arakawa out early, but no-one else has managed to. If Figueroa can then boxing has a new superstar on it's hands. If he can't and if Arakawa wins then Figueroa will grow from a loss and develop with the experienced he'll have gained from the bout.
One thing is for sure, this has "exciting" written all over it.
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.