On March 3rd we'll see unbeaten WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (20-0, 7) make his next defense, as he takes on former Japanese national champion Norihito Tanaka (19-7, 10) in Nakhon Sawan. For Tanaka this will be his first world title bout, whilst the local star looks to make his 8th defense of the WBA title, which he won in 2016 when he beat Byron Rojas, in their first bout.
Of the two men it's obvious that Knockout CP Freshmart with the more recognisable name. The Thai has one of the most memorable names in the sport, and has also had a long, if not particularly impressive, reign as the WBA champion. Prior to becoming a boxer he was a successful Muay Thai fighter, who turned to boxing in 2012. He quickly rose through the ranks an claimed the WBA "interim" title in 2014 before taking the full version of the title 20 months later. Sadly since winning the WBA belt his competition has, on the whole, been unspectacular with wins over faded veterans, like Shin Ono, Go Odaira and Xiong Zhao Zhong, and pre-prime Filipino fighters like Toto Landero and ArAr Andales.
Although named "Knockout" CP Freshmart the Thai hasn't really shown any power since moving to world class. He has gone 12-0 (2) in since fighting in his first "interim" world title fighter, and could mockingly now be called "Unanimous Decision" CP Freshmart. Not only has Knockout shown a lack of power but also a really boring style. He seems capable of setting a good pace, for a few rounds early on, but as the bouts progress he becomes more and more dull to watch, with hugging, wrestling and messy action becoming the norm for his bouts. Although highly skilled there is a view that he has lost interest in the sport, and that really feels like the case in recent bouts, in what have been some awful bouts. The one thing that Knockout does have going in his favour is is that he appears to have a good relationship with judges, who have often given him rounds that he may not have deserved, especially when he fights in Thailand.
The 35 year old Tanaka is someone who is coming to the end of his career, though has been riding a small wave of success in recent years.
Tanaka debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts, before losing 3 of his next 4. That sounds bad but included losses to Ryoichi Taguchi, Kenichi Horikawa and Masatate Tsuji. Another loss not too much later, to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight was followed by yet another loss, this time to Takashi Kunishige. After those losses he was 13-5 (7) and only fought once more before walking away from the sport in late 2011. It would be more than 5 years before he returned and since then he has rebuilt going 5-2 (3) with notable domestic wins over Yuto Takahashi, Takumi Sakae and Shin Ono, as well as avenging one of his 2 losses, a controversial one to Naoya Haruguchi.
In the ring Tanaka is a sneaky good fighter, a veteran who uses smart movement to draw mistakes, drawing opponents in and countering. He's really small for a Minimumweight, but really crafty, and very much a smart fighter who punishes opponents for their slip ups. Although not a puncher he does have enough sting on his shots to do damage, as he did against Shin Ono, and given he often catches opponents coming in those shots have the opponent's weight on them as well.
One thing we need to mention before we talk about how we expect the fight to go is the history of Japanese challengers in Thailand. In more than 20 world title bouts in Thailand, no Japanese fighter has ever won. History is dead set against Tanaka, as is his age, and the questionable officiating of bouts featuring Knockout.
We expect to see this start quite well, Knockout fights tend to, but after 3 or 4 rounds this will have descended into a mauling affair. We wouldn't be surprised if Tanaka has the skills and movement to take a couple of the early rounds, but as the bout progresses into a gruelling mess we expect to see Knockout convince the judges to give him rounds.
We do not expect this to be pretty, we do not expect this to be exciting and sadly, given Knockout's last few bouts, we do not expect to see the title change hands.
Prediction - UD12 Knockout
The Minimumweight division is in a weird place right now. The champions seem to be showing no intention of unifying their titles and instead we essentially have 4 champions each picking their way through contenders in a division that really hasn't caught fire for a few years. We've thankfully got some some interesting contenders breaking through but it could be a while before any of them taking on one of the division top dogs.
Thankfully the year does kick off with an interesting bout in the division as IBF champion Pedro Taduran (14-2, 11) travels to Mexico and defends his title in early February, taking on once beaten Mexican Daniel Valladares (22-1, 13) in a mouth watering match up.
The 23 year old Taduran won the title last September, when he upset fellow Filipino Samuel Salva in a 4 round thriller. That was Taduran's second shot at a world title after a 2018 loss in a WBC title bout to Wanhen Menayothin. Despite losing to Menayothin we were impressed by Taduran who showed great aggression and energy, and outside of the Philippines, with a better referee than Stephen Blea, things could have been different. His title win over Salva saw Taduran score a 4th stoppage in 5 bouts, having also taken out Jeffrey Galero, Jerry Tomogdan and Philip Luis Cuerdo.
Fighting out of the southpaw stance Taduran's is an awkward fighter to face. He looks easy to hit due to a relative lack of defense, and he is there to be tagged by straight right hands. Saying that however he's still a total nightmare to face due to his high work rate and nasty power. He's one of those fighters who knows that his best defense is actually his offense and it will take a very good fighter to neutralise Taduran, without nullifying their own offense. Unlike most Minimumweights he chases a stoppage from the off, making him a real danger man to face, and not someone to get involved in a war with.
Mexican fighter Daniel Valladares has mostly fought as a Flyweight or Light Flyweight, and will be fighting as a Minimumweight for the first time when he gets in the ring with Taduran. Despite the weight concern he does make for an excellent dance partner and comes into this bout with a lot of momentum thanks to an 11 fight winning run. That run includes a win an in IBF eliminator at Light Flyweight, over the previously unbeaten Chrsitian Araneta, a win over former world champion Merlito Sabillo and a win over the then unbeaten Adrian Curiel.
In the ring Valladares is a really fun fighter to watch. He's a smart, yet aggressive pressure fighter. He has sharp movement, quick hands and despite being aggressive he is a patient fighter. He will look to create mistakes from his opponent for him to capitalise on, rather than go out wildly swinging and this could cause real issue for Taduran. It's worth noting that he has shown good form against Filipino and his win against Araneta actually came against a Filipino southpaw.
Given the styles of the two men this should be a total thriller. We would expect to see Taduran forcing the pressure and the action with his output setting the tempo, and Valladares responding with smart counters. We would expect a round or two of the two men figuring each other out, the time it takes for Taduran's engine to get going, then we expect to see the two men letting shots go freely on the inside. This will give us some amazing action.
The real question going in is how well will Valladares make 105lbs and can Taduran keep up his output in Mexico? If Valladares can make the weight safely he should be favoured, in what will be a cracking fight. If he takes too much out of his body however this will end up being a bit of a beating the Mexican. We expect Valladares to make weight, he's not looked a big guy at 108lbs, and we would slightly favour him here.
One thing we will say for this bout, is do not be surprised if this ends up being a bit of a sleeper classic!
Prediction UD12 - Valladares
It's fair to state the Minimumweight division hasn't had a great year in 2019. We've seen only 3 successful defenses so far this year, and whilst it has 2 new champions neither has yet to make a defense of their title. There has been activity in the division, and even one or two fantastic bouts, but on the whole it's really been a poor and unremarkable year for the division. And that's coming from us, and we are huge fans of the little guys!
Thankfully it does look like we could get a really exciting match up before the year is over as WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (53-0, 13) defends his belt against South African challenger Simpiwe Konkco (19-5-0-1, 7) on October 25th. This bout, a mandatory for Wanheng, will be the Thai's 12th defense of the title he won almost 5 years ago. On the other hand it will be Koncko's second bout for a major title, though he has previously held the IBO belt twice.
At 33 years old the champion is old for a Minimumweight, but is still younger than some of the challengers around like Norihito Tanaka and Shin Ono, who are both in their mid 30's and Gabriel Mendoza, who is set to challenge for a world title at the age of 40. What's more impressive than Wanheng's age is his ring years. He has a been a professional for almost 13 years, has 53 bouts behind him and 425 professional rounds. For a fighter to have a 53 fight unbeaten run is rare, though has been done in the past, but for a world champion in today's era to have over 400 rounds, over 50 bouts and remain in 1 weight class is genuinely impressive. The dedication to fight at the same weight through his entire career has to be applauded.
Sadly what can't be applauded is Wanheng's competition. There are a number of solid wins on his record, such as victories over Florante Condes, Oswaldo Novoa, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Saul Juarez, Pedro Taduran and Melvin Jerusalem, but for a man with over 50 wins that's an unimpressive line up.
In the ring Wanheng is incredibly talented. He's a smart fighter who applies pressure behind a tight guard, with good, clever footwork, he presses well, and defends well. When up close he lets his combinations fly, and his body shots are really eye catching. Whilst he does do somethings really well he does lack power, he's not the quickest, or the busiest and he has had some luck with judges in the past. He's a hard man to beat, but certainly not unbeatable, and we suspect the best way to beat him is to out work him, keep him behind his tight guard and get away before he gets close enough to set off his own combinations. It's something we've seen tried, and something that has really shown flaws in Wanheng's style, but the Thai has always done enough to get the nod from the judges.
On paper Koncko doesn't look like a qualified challenger, he's already lost 5 of his 24 bouts and has been stopped in 3 losses. What that doesn't tell you is anything in regards to context, with Koncko going 6-4 to begin his career before rolling off a 13-1-0-1 stretch over the last few years. That stretch of success has seen him lose on to Hekkie Budler, in a very competitive all-South African bout, whilst notching wins against the likes of Zukisani Kwayiba, Siyabonga Siyo, Nkosinathi Joyi, Lito Dante and Toto Landero. Maybe not murderer's row but still solid wins, and wins that show how misleading his record is.
In the ring Koncko is a very tough guy, the early KO losses shouldn't be seen a sign of a poor chin, but more inexperience at the time. What he's become is a smart fighter, able to counter well, set a high pace when he needs to and hit with much more power than his record suggests. He's notable a patient fighter, looking for the right time to strike, but when he gets on the front foot he is a solid guy, with a hard right hand. He gauges distance well and does find gaps will alarming frequency. Sadly though his work rate isn't as high or as consistent as we'd think it'd need to be to beat Wanheng in Thailand.
Stylistically this should be interesting, with Koncko being a skilled boxer who can hold his own with Wanheng on a technical level. The difference though is that Koncko is unlikely to be getting a decision in Thailand, against the ever hostile Thai conditions. He doesn't fight at a high enough pace to make Wanheng uncomfortable, nor does he appear to have the 1-punch power to hurt the Thai. Wanheng will almost certainly rack up the rounds, buoyed on by local fans and take a clear, but hard fought decision in a technically high level bout.
This may not be the most fun to watch, but it has the ingredients to be a very interesting contest.
Prediction UD12 Wanheng
The Minimumweight division may not get much respect in the English speaking world but the division has, over the years, given us some special fights, such as Katsunari Takayama's war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Akira Yaegashi's historic clash with Kazuto Ioka and Yaegashi's incredible bout with Pornsawan Porpramook. Not every fight in the division is great, but more often than not the division over delivers.
The next fight in the division that we're expecting to be something special is an upcoming bout for the vacant IBF title, as the unbeaten Samuel Salva (17-0, 10) takes on former world title challenger Pedro Taduran (13-2, 10), in a rare all-Filipino world title bout. It's the third all-Filipino world title bout in the space of 18 months, and whilst it's the lowest profile it is likely to be the most entertaining.
The unbeaten Salva was originally pencilled in to face Deejay Kriel, though Kriel would vacate the title rather than travel to the Philippines for his mandatory against the unheralded Salva. That has lead to this bout, and given Salva, dubbed the "Silent Assassin" a chance to face his countryman for the belt.
Aged 22 Salva has been quietly making a name for himself at home running up his unbeaten streak without too much fuss. His record isn't stacked with notable names but during his 17 fight career he has scored victories over Donny Mabao, Marco John Rementizo and Rene Mark Cuarto. These are all domestic fighters, but are the sort of fighters that we Filipino's beating before getting a big shot. Aged 22 we wouldn't typically expect a big win on Salva's record, but it is concerning that he is getting a world title yet lacks a win over an international foe.
To date Salva's best win is likely his decision victory over Rene Mark Cuarto from earlier this year. In that bout Salva did enough to earn a close but clear decision over his compatriot. His key to victory there was being a little busier, coming forward more often and a slight edge in power, though it was a close fight. Salva really didn't show anything exceptional through the bout, but looked calm, steady and worked hard through 10 rounds, boxing behind his jab and using his footwork to pressure Cuarto and countering well when Cuarto came forward. He looked solid, but not spectacular.
Taduran on the other hand has fought at a much higher level than Salva. The "Rattle Snake", who like Salva is also 22, has scored wins against the likes of Robert Onggocan, Philip Luis Cuerdo, Jerry Tomogdan and Jeffrey Galero, whilst his losses have been to Joel Lino, early in his career, and WBC world champion Wanheng Menayothin, just over a year ago. Like Salva his wins have been against domestic competition, though a higher level of domestic foe to the unbeaten man, and he certainly didn't embarrass himself in a very competitive bout with Wanheng in Thailand. That bout with Wanheng left many, including ourselves, feeling like Taduran had world championship potential, and just needed to build a little bit more, with the experience of fighting Wanheng certainly helping him improve.
Watching Taduran fight we see a fighter who isn't intimidated by a hostile atmosphere or an opponents reputation, a man with boundless energy, an awkward busy southpaw who can fight on the front foot. He's technically not the sharpest, not does he look like a fighter with much power, but he's in there to have a fight, will barge forward and let his hands fly. His defensive flaws do leave him open to be tagged, but on the other hand he appears capable taking a good, solid shot. He's less technical than Salva, but seems happier to make things a fight.
On paper we suspect that Salva will start as the slight favourite, but we actually favour Taduran. We feel his experience at a higher level, his energy, aggression and work rate will be the difference. Salva is the better boxer, from what we've managed to see of the two, but sometimes it's the better fighter who picks up the win, and Taduran is certainly the man who looks to be the better fighter.
We're expecting to see Taduran pressure Salva, maybe lose a few early rounds to Salva's boxing as a result, but eventually begin to grind down the unbeaten man, taking a close but clear decision victory to claim the IBF title.
Prediction - UD12 Taduran
The Philippines, seemingly more than anywhere else, has world champions who defend on the road fight after fight. We don't mean world champions who set up a boxing home away from home, but actually get out their passport and head all over the place to fight their world level bouts. The latest of those is WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (19-3, 10), who won the belt in Japan, made his first defense in Japan and will be in action this coming weekend in Puerto Rico, to defend against Wilfredo Mendez (13-1, 5).
The lack of big money in the Philippines has seen fighters like Saludar, John Riel Casimero and Jerwin Ancajas fighting on the road as champions, and in a way it makes their reigns a little more interesting than those fighters who remain a small, but local, star. It obviously increases the risk of them losing a dodgy decision, but also increases their reputation as real world champions, willing to fight around the world.
For fans who have seen Saludar the fear of being robbed on the scorecards does not appear to be a fear that he has. The hard hitting Pinoy he has travelled for 3 fights in the last 4 years, all against men fighting in their residency. In the first of those, in Nagoya against Kosei Tanaka, he almost took Tanaka out early, before being undone by a brutal body shot whilst in the lead. The second saw him dethrone Ryuya Yamanaka in Kobe, with a clear decision, before going to Tokyo to defend against Masataka Taniguchi, and clearly defeat the talented Taniguchi. He refuses to fight like a man who believes he's going to be robbed, and instead he tries to take the fight by the scruff of the neck, combining vicious power, with under-rated technical skills, a high work rate and a real self confidence.
Prior to turning professional Saludar was a highly regarded amateur, who had defeated the likes of Charlie Edwards and Mark Anthony Barriga, and gave Amnat Ruenroeng a really tough bout, in Thailand. Those amateur fundamentals gave Saludar a great base to work on and fantastic experience on the road. His naturally heavy hands make him a nightmare in the ring and whilst he has lost a few times one of those defeats came very early, when he bust his hand, another came to Tanaka, when Tanaka pulled out one of the best shots of his career, whilst the other came to Toto Landero, who went on to give Knockout CP Freshmart a very tough test.
Whilst Saludar is a well regarded name in the sport Mendez really isn't, at least not outside of Latin America. The once beaten 22 year old has fought all 14 pro bouts in the America's, fighting mostly in his native Puerto Rico and on the frankly appalling Dominican boxing scene, with a solitary fight in Colombia. For this coming fight he is at home, with it being his 6th fight in Puerto Rico, where he is currently 5-0 (2). For Mendez this is a huge step up, and comes after multiple fights with Robert Paradero have fallen through. To date his competition has lacked in terms of quality. His sole loss came in the Dominican Republic to Leyman Benavides, a Nicaraguan who had been stopped by Gilberto Parra just 4 months earlier, whilst his best win was a clear one over Janiel Rivera, which saw one judge mis-identity the fighters resulting in a very peculiar split decision. That win over Rivera saw Mendez stepping up to the plate and shining, but Rivera is a long way removed from Saludar.
Stylistically Mendez is a solid looking fighter, who knows how to use the ring, counter and lay traps. He's a smart fighter, who really can box wonderfully on the back foot. Sadly for all the nice touches he has in terms of counters, timing and distance control he does seem to slap his shots, fight negatively and lacks real power. He's skilled, but doesn't appear to really turn his weight into his power shots and instead looks like he slaps a lot. It also appears that his defensive skills look good because of the limited level of competition that he's facing.
Coming into this bout we expect the style of Mendez to appease Saludar. To beat Saludar you can't back off him, you can't let him take the initiative. If that happens he tends to be too good, and builds his confidence through the fight. If Mendez thinks he can win on the ropes, and soaking up pressure from Saludar we suspect he's wrong, very wrong. Sitting on the ropes and letting Saludar throw his heavy, clean, hurtful shots will break a fighter down, and we suspect Mendez gets broken down here.
Mendez looks like he's tough and brave, but the pressure of Saludar will simply be too much over 12 rounds.
Prediction - TKO9 Saludar
The Minimumweight division has promised so much in recent years, yet has horribly under-delivered with no unification bouts and champions often facing lesser known challengers. There has been some great moments in the division over the last year or two, but the division hasn't managed to build on the action and excitement that Katsunari Takayama once gave us.
One of the biggest frustrations in the division has been WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart (19-0, 7). Early on his career he looked like he was going to be a new star for the division. He had a great nickname, a fantastic background from Muay Thai, and was thrown in at the deep end, fighting in a Youth title bout on his debut. With 3 stoppages in his first 4 bouts, and 5 in his first 8, it seemed like he had some pop and his desire to be tested was great. In just his 9th bout he was fighting for the WBA "interim" title against Carlos Buitrago, and since then he has gone on to claim the main WBA title.
In just 19 fights Knockout has beaten Carlos Buitrago, twice, Muhammad Rachman, Byron Rojas, twice, Shin Ono, Alexis Diaz, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xiong Zhao Zhong. On paper that's an impressive resume. Sadly though he's become being "Knockout CP Freshmart" to "Unanimous Decision CP Freshmart", with just 2 stoppages in his last 11, and his last 4 have all gone the distance. What's worse is how boring some of these bouts have become, with Knockout not taking risks, not going for a finish and instead his bouts have often meandered, to a forgettable, yet predictable conclusion.
Whilst Knockout is talented, he's not a risk taker, or someone who will put on a show. He'll often get himself in an early lead, then maul, make things messy and fiddle his way to a win with his early lead, rather than trying to shine.
This coming Friday Knockout makes his next defense of the WBA Minimumweight title and takes on unbeaten Filipino teenager ArAr Andales (10-0, 2). It's again a rather poor defense for Knockout, who looks like he's picking on a kid when a division has fighters like Simphiwe Khonco, Carlos Licona, Ricardo Astuvilca, Joey Canoy and Jose Argumedo floating around. That's not to say that Andales is a bad fighter, he isn't, he's just young, inexperienced and clearly a long way from his prime. He's an improving fighter, but one who isn't yet ready for a world title fight, and is being pushed into this fight a bit too early in his career, sadly.
Andales debuted in June 2017 and 15 months later he claimed his first title, the LuzProBa Minimumweight title, he would then add the WBA Asia title earlier this year, and has since defended the belt one, with a win over Cris Ganoza. The win over Ganoza showed that Andales is a true prospect, a real one to watch. But he is still only a prospect, with 10 bouts and 58 rounds under his belt, and the Ganoza fight aside he hasn't really faced anyone at even fringe regional level. From the footage available he's a smart fighter, uses good body shots and can use distance well, sneaking out of range when he needs to. Sadly though there is also a clear reckless side to his fighting and he could do with a lot more polishing before getting a shot at this level.
If Andales was handled right, and this opportunity came after a few more developmental fights against progressively better competition, maybe even with him facing a regional champion, he could, perhaps, be ready for Knockout. Instead we expect him to be a gallant loser, putting up a good effort, having moments, but failing to keep the intensity over 12 rounds in Thailand to defeat Knockout. The Thai isn't unbeatable, not even close, but Andales is ill prepared to take him on at this stage.
Prediction - UD 12 Knockout CP Freshmart
Although often described as a division with no depth the Minimumweight division is current a really interesting one, with several notable fighters all in or around world level. One of these is WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (52-0, 18), who notched his 52nd straight win last November, as he defeated Mektison Marganti in a stay busy bout. Not only is Wanheng the holder of a perfect 52 fight winning record, but he is also the longest reigning active male world champion, having held the title for over 4 years and making 10 defenses.
In the coming days Wanheng will seek his 11th defense of the title, as he takes on former WBO champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6-6, 7) in what will be a second meeting between the two men.
These two first fought in 2017, when Fukuhara gave Wanheng a serious test and could well have got the decision had the bout not been held in Thailand. Now, more than a year later, Fukuhara returns for a second shot at the Thai champion.
Aged 33 Wanheng is an old man for the smaller weight classes, especially when you consider he has had over 50 bouts, more than 415 professional rounds and has been a professional for more than 12 years. Despite that he hasn't taken much damage and he is a defensively responsible fighter, with a tight guard and a good boxing brain.
Not only is Wanheng defensively smart but he's also offensively smart too. He's not a big puncher, but he's an accurate, clean puncher. He rarely throws when he's out of position or off balance and fires in good sharp counters, applies good pressure behind his guard and unleashes some really impressive combinations. Whilst a smart fighter he doesn't have much in terms of power, he's not the hardest worker, or the quickest out there, and he gets older we suspect that he will become slower and will throw less and less.
Aged 29 Fukuhara is the much younger fighter. Like Wanehng he is a veteran, with more than 10 years of professional experience and over 200 rounds of action. Despite also being a veteran he is stylistically very different to the Thai, relying on work rate, aggression and desire rather than ring IQ and clean punching. Technically he is rather limited, but his will to win is really impressive.
Fukuhara's has had an up and down career. In terms of the highs he reached the final of the 2009 Rookie of the Year, won the Japanese national title in 2015 and the WBO title in 2017. As for lows he has lost most of his notable bouts, including a loss in 2013 to the then debuting Takuma Inoue and losses in 2017 to Ryuya Yamanaka and Menayothin.
We don't think Wanheng will extend his winning record for too much longer. He has been pushed close numerous times in recent bouts, but we do suspect that he will be protected by the conditions and officiating in Thailand for as long as he can be. We think that will play a major role here, in what we're expecting will be a razor close bout, but one which again sees the champion edging the bout in the eyes of the judges.
Fukuhara will set a high work rate, he knows he has too, but unless he can really hurt Wanheng he doesn't have much of a chance of getting the decision in the Land of Smiles and instead we're expecting a close judges decision to the Thai.
The Minmumweight division has continued to go under-the-radar in recent years despite some amazing fighters, and fights, down at 105lbs. On February 26th we'll get another potentially sensational fight as Vic Saludar (18-3, 10) defends the WBO title against Japanese challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-2, 7), in what has the potential to be a FOTY contender.
The 28 year old Saludar claimed the title last year, when he defeated Ryuya Yamanaka in an underrated 12 round bout back in July, exactly 5 years after his debut. That was his second world title fight, after suffering a KO loss to Kosei Tanaka back at the end of 2015. In both bouts the Filipino showed how good he was, and showed that he was a strong, powerful, hard hitting fighter with real ambition. He was technically the most rounded fighter, but more technical than many give his credit for. He was accurate, exciting, and very determined.
After turning professional in 2013 Saludar had been tipped for big things. His career took a hit early however when he pulled out of his third bout, suffering a fractured hand against Powell Balaba just 4 months after his debut.He would rebuild to get the shot at Tanaka and drop Tanaka before being stopped himself, whilst well up on the scorecards. He would then begin a charge towards a second world title fight. That charge hit a bump when he lost to Toto Landero, but he bounced back from that defeat and ended up defeating Yamanaka, and sadly forcing Yamanaka to retire following a small brain bleed.
Although his record is 18-3 (10) Saludar is a huge puncher. He dropped Tanaka, he dropped and badly hurt Yamanaka. He's not the type of guy you choose to get into a war with, and instead you attempt to outbox him, take advantage of his technical flaws and win rounds, hoping to make the most of his mistakes. He's perhaps not the toughest fighter out there, but it did take a beauty of a body punch from Tanaka to stop him, but he is rather rugged.
Taniguchi also has a misleading record, with 2 losses in his first 13 fights. He could however be 13-0 (7) and nobody would have criticised the decisions, with both of his losses coming in razor thin majority decisions. Not only have they come by the narrowest of margins, but they have also come at a very high level. His first loss was to the then 12-0 Reiya Konishi in a Japanese title fight, whilst the second was to the then OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura, who was 11-0. Those losses have come to fighters who are going to be in the world title mix for years to come.
Taniguchi turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi and both were expected to be on a similar career trajectory, with Watanabe matching them on the same shows early in their careers. Since then Kyoguchi has become one of the faces of Japanese boxing, becoming a 2-weight champion. Taniguchi hasn't quite had the same success, suffering his two losses and also suffering some injuries, that have slowed his rise. He did however, claim his first title last year, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in November in Thailand to open up this fight.
Taniguchi is a skilled boxer-puncher, with a good output, a real toughness and an exciting style that should make for a thrilling clash with Saludar. He's also a fighter who has solid power, a determined mentality and nice variety to his punches. We'd go as far as to say that Taniguchi is the better pure boxer, whilst Saludar is the bigger single puncher. Taniguchi is however a southpaw, and that may prove to be a key factor.
We're expecting a highly skilled chess match with knights removed, and shotguns replacing them. We can't help but imagine both will be unloading bombs, looking to take the other out. We believe the better skills of Taniguchi will prove to be a key for him, but Saludar will certainly be able to hurt the challenger if he lands cleanly, and there will always be a real sense of danger when he connects.
We see this being a close and competitive bout, but we do see Taniguchi doing enough to take the take in a clear, but very hard fought, decision.
The Minimumweight division has been an interesting one recently, which has been given more attention than usual due to Thailand's Wanheng Menayothin reaching 51-0 and breaking the 50-0 record of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Despite the increase in attention it's had, that attention really hasn't been spread across the whole division, and that's a shame given that the division is actually really interesting at the moment. Not only do you have Wanheng with a world title but also the incredibly exciting Vic Saludar and, at the time of writing, the brilliantly named Knockout CP Freshmart. The division also has rising contenders and Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi who are both exciting, heavy handed and talented fighters who will find themselves in the mix for years to come.
Another fighter who is expected to be in mix for the coming years is Filipino maestro Mark Anthony Barriga (9-0, 1), who looks to become the IBF champion this coming Saturday, as he takes on fellow unbeaten and Carlos Licona (13-0, 2) for the vacant title.
The title was vacated earlier this year by Hiroto Kyoguchi, who decided to move up in weight. Prior to vacating Barriga had earned the mandatory position for a title shot, with Licona being ordered by the IBF to be the co-challenger for the vacant title. After several weeks of talks it ended up on this weekend's big card from the US, giving both fighters the chance to capitalise on a big show.
For those that haven't seen Barriga he has regularly been compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr. He is one of the most naturally skilled fighters in the sport, with amazing movement, timing and ring craft. He understands distance like very few fighters in the sport and can make good fighters look like rank novices just from his understanding of the ring. His one flaw is that he lacks power, he really is one of the lightest punchers in the sport, but he's a very crisp puncher, who's accurate, sharp and clean with his work.
The Filipino has only been a professional since July 2016 but has already impressed, with particularly notable wins against former world title challengers Samartlek Kokietgym and Gabriel Mendoza, barely losing a round in those bouts combined.
The 23 Mexican born American Licona made his debut in December 2014 and has fought in Mexico, the US and Puerto Rico. Though his career his most notable opponent has been former world title challenger Janiel Rivera, and that's really his only win against an opponent of any name value.
Sadly there is very little footage of Licona, so it's hard to know much about his style, though given his record, and his lack of stoppages, we can assume he's not a puncher. His only stoppages so far both came in his first 4 bouts and since then he's not found anything closing in a stoppage. That's not to say not hitting hard will be an issue here, but it's one thing would help when fighting Barriga. What we expect to see is Licona to be another talented, slick boxer.
We could rave about how good we thing Barriga is, but the reality that we don't think we'll need to. Instead we think Barriga will shine here and will turn heads with a mature, skilled and excellent performance of boxing. We suspect it'll be a performance that will please the purists, rather than the fans looking for excitement, but we're pretty confident that Barriga will put on an exhibition against Licona and come out on top.
We know that's a risky prediction, given how little we've managed to see of Licona, but we're confident that Barriga really is that good, and is the most technically skilled fighter at 105lbs, by quite some margin.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 28, the WBA Minimumweight World Champion Thammanoon Niyomtrong will make his 6th defense, against the man, whom he beat for that very title, Byron Rojas.
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (18-0/7 KOs), also known as Knockout CP Freshmart, just like the majority of the boxers from Thailand, he began his fighting career as a Muay Thai fighter. During that time, he managed to win the Thai National as well as the Lumpinee & Rajadamnern Stadium titles, which are considered to be the sport’s most prestigious championships. By doing so, Niyomtrong has made himself a member of that elite group of men, who have held Muay Thai & Boxing world titles, such as Saensak Muangsurin, Samart Payakaroon and Veeraphol Sahaprom.
He made his pro boxing debut in 2012, and in just 2 years he won 8 fights, 6 of those via KO/TKO. On November of 2014, he took on Carlos Buitrago for the interim WBA Minimumweight World title. Niyomtrong put on a boxing clinic, keeping the pressure on for the entirety of the match, not slowing down for a single minute. Despite suffering a nasty cut at his left eye, his superior striking and counter game earned him the unanimous decision victory that night, thus the interim belt. Their rematch in 2016, was pretty much the same, only this time, Niyomtrong was even more dominant than before.
Knockout CP Freshmart defended the interim WBA title against 2 time World champion Muhammad Rachman, back in 2015. As in the aforementioned bout, the champ kept peppering Rachman constantly for 12 rounds. To the Indonesian’s credit, he never went down and also had a good offense, but nothing game changing. In the end, Niyomtrong showcased incredible hand speed and movement, to once again leave with the gold.
In 2016 he faced the WBA World champion Byron Rojas in a unification fight. Niyomtrong was going for the clinch, every time after throwing a good combination or got tagged, slowing the pace down, in what was a smart but less than exciting strategy, that secured him the win. 6 months later, Niyomtrong successfully defended his world title for the 1st time against former OPBF Light Flyweight champion Shin Ono, after dropping him in the 10th round and continued the assault until the closing bell. He also stopped former Japanese champion Go Odaira, with a sweet right cross in the 5th, after punishing him with a plethora of body shots.
After retaining the world title 2 more times, against Rey Loreto and Toto Landero, he squared off against former WBC World Champion Chaozhong Xiong, this past July, in China. After a relatively slow start to the match, Niyomtrong caught Xiong with a perfectly timed right cross to the chin, during the 3rd round, stunning the former champion momentarily. The action then picked up, as both fighters were trading punches, with the Thai boxer getting the better of these exchanges. Since Niyomtrong was the one pushing the action for the vast majority of the fight, he was awarded the decision, improving his record to a perfect 18-0.
Knockout CP Freshmart will now come face to face again with Byron Rojas (25-3/11 KOs), in a rematch 2.5 years in the making. The Nicaraguan’s biggest achievement was winning a close decision over the WBA Super World Minimumweight Champion Hekkie Budler (now the WBA Light Flyweight World Champion), back in 2016. After losing the title, he has been undefeated in his last 8 fights, including a victory over former WBC Silver champion Carlos Ortega, which was an action-packed eight rounder. Niyomtrong has had tougher challenges in that same timeframe, which has allowed him to improve his skills even further, in comparison to Rojas who has battled against lesser opponents. At that point, it’s safe to say that the Thai fighter will once again walk out with the victory. The real question is, what’s next for Niyomtrong. A unification bout with another champion, like Vic Saludar (IBF) or maybe it’s time for the former Muay Thai king to try his hand at Light Flyweight ? Only time will tell.
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.