On August 31st we'll see WBC Minimumweight champion Panya Pradabsri (38-1, 23), aka Petchmanee Kokietgym, seek his third defense as he takes on former Japanese national champion Norihito Tanaka (20-8, 10) [田中教仁] in Nakhon Ratchasima. The bout, which was made when Tanaka replaced fellow Japanese fighter Tsubasa Koura for the opportunity a few weeks ago, is potentially the final one in the career of Tanaka, who knows it's now or never for him at the top level.
The once beaten champion, aged 31, is arguably the best fighter in the division, though there is a strong argument to be had that that honour lies with either with WBA Knockout CP Freshmart. He earned that honour in 2020 when he beat the previously unbeaten Wanheng Menayothin to claim the WBC title, in what was a career defining win and one that put him on the map of many fans who hadn't heard of him before. Just beating the then 54-0 Wanheng meant a lot, and it's a win that will likely go down as the best win of his career when Panya eventually retires. Sadly outside of that win, and another in a rematch against Wanheng, there is little of note on his record. His best "other" wins are against the likes of Jaysever Abcede, Jerry Tomogdan, Dexter Alimento and Robert Onggocan.
Despite having a paper thin 38-1 record there is no doubting Panya's ability in the ring. He is a talented boxer-puncher, with good hand speed, nasty body shots, and a good understanding of the ring. He could, and probably should, have done much more with his career and as mentioned he is arguably the best at 105lbs right now. He can box, he can punch, he can move and at times it looks like he can pretty much do anything. He does however sometimes flatter to deceive and can make tactical errors, such as fighting the wrong fight against Wanheng, with both of their fights being very close, and following fighters rather than cutting the ring down, an issue that we saw against Danai Ngiabphukhiaw last November.
The Japanese challenger, who's now 37 years old, has had a rollercoaster like career with a number of ups and downs. He began his career 9-0 and despite going 11-8 since then there is no doubting his achievements, including his Japanese title 2in in 2019, when he stopped Shin Ono. There is also no questioning the talent he's gone in against, with losses to Kenichi Horikawa, Akira Yaegashi, Ryoichi Taguchi, Tsubasa Koura and most recently Knockout CP Freshmart. He has held Japanese honours and managed to fight for world and Regional honours during his career. Sadly though at the age of 37, and with out a fight since the end of 2020, it's hard to say just what he has in the tank.
At his best Tanaka was a sharp, awkward and tricky fighter who used good hand speed and movement to land and get out of range. He understands the ring and range and where to move, how to move and how to land without taking much in return. Sadly though at the age of 37 and with extra ring rust we see that speed slowing, the timing going and with his lack of physicality, power and size he is going to really struggle to put up a legitimate challenge for Panya. He might ask questions, at times, of the champion, but it's very hard to imagine him really testing Panya.
We expect Tanaka to have moments early on, but as the rounds go on those moments will become less and less regular, with Tanaka eventually deciding to just survive to the final bell, knowing that he's too far behind to really make a fight of things.
Prediction - UD12 Panya
For much of the last 6 years the Minimumweight division has been dominated by two Thai's, with wide spread calls for them to clash. At the time the pair were the WBA "super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart (23-0, 9) and WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (55-2-0-1, 19), who were both unbeaten at the time and had styles that could have gelled to give us a classic. Sadly however those calls went unheeded, with the Thai promoter, Petchyindee, and corporate sponsors preferring to have two world champions they could market shows over, rather than a single unified champion. As a result the unification bout between, arguably, the two best fighters at 105lbs never came to be.
At least not when it most mattered.
This coming Wednesday we will actually get the bout, though it's a bout that has lost some allure to what it once had. No longer is it two unbeaten world champions facing off. Instead it's only Knockout defending his world champion, as the twice beaten Wanehng lost the WBC title in late 2020, to fellow Thai Panya Pradabsri and also lost a rematch to Panya in 2021. Although both of those bouts were close they were both losses and saw a lot of the intrigue of Knockout Vs Wanheng dissipating as a result. Despite the allure dying down, sometimes it's better to get something late, than never at all and that is very much the feeling with this bout. The fight isn't as red hot as it was, but it's still one of the most interesting bouts that can be made at 105lbs.
Of the two men it's the champion here that has more to lose than the challenger. The 31 year old Knockout has held some version of the WBA title, be it interim, regular of Super, since 2014 and has quietly built a solid, though unspectacular, resume for himself. His most notable wins are two decision victories over Carlos Buitrago, along with victories over Muhammad Rachman, Byron Rojas, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Robert Paradero. For a man who has been in and around the top of the sport as long as he has, the resume is thin. Despite that there is no doubting his ability and he's one of the more technically polished boxers at 105lbs, and someone who has clearly developed from a somewhat raw fighter, when he first faced Buitrago, to an accomplished boxer in more recent bouts. He has also been sitting on his shots more in recent contests, and although not a huge puncher, he has solid power at 105lbs, something he showed us last year against Robert Paradero.
At his best Knockout is a very, very good all rounder. He doesn't blow anyone away in any particular area, but he's well schooled, he knows his way around the ring, has solid power, good timing and impressive physical strength for such a small man. He is somewhat under-whelming when it comes to out put and his style isn't the most fun, with Knockout often fighting to get his nose in the lead early on, before cruising through much of the bout to take a decision, but he's smart and uses his brain well. For fighters looking to beat him, work rate is key, and fighters who set a high tempo do cause him problems, as we saw in the first fight with Buitrago, as well as his 2019 bout with ArAr Andale, but standing off and trying to box with Knockout is very much playing to Knockout's strengths. In many ways a smart, intelligent pressure fighter, with solid rate and an ability to cut the ring off, does seem likely to be the style to beat him. A style several notable fighters in the division current have.
As for Wanheng, the 36 year old was, for quite period of time, the best fighter at 105lbs and had a very impressive 54-0 (14) record. Not only that but he had a very impressive 12 world title defenses to his name and had notable wins against the likes of Florante Condes, Oswaldo Novoa, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Pedro Taduran, Melvin Jerusalem, Simpiwe Konkco and Saul Juarez. He resume wasn't screaming out as something stacked with big names, but it was a solid record, and it was highly impressive how he had stayed at one weight essentially his entire career, rather than picking and choosing his way to different titles. Sadly the two losses to Panya ended his incredibly unbeaten run, though both was questionable and they felt something akin to the the powers that be in Thailand passing the torch onto the next generation of top fighters in the division, rather than Wanheng actually being done at the top.
Despite being 36 Wanheng is really incredible. He is a committed fighter, who has dedicated himself to one weight, and had been dedicated to his craft in the ring. He's never been the quickest, the biggest puncher or the man with the highest work rate. Instead he has been crafty, intelligent and fights with a style that combines intelligent pressure, great footwork and quick, sharp combinations that catch the eye. He's not the quickest fighter out there, but he cuts the ring down well on the front foot, he has a tight guard, and he gets where he wants to be to fire shots off. Although not heavy handed he is someone who hits harder than his record suggests, and certainly gets respect from fighters, in terms of both his combinations and his single shots, which do have some pop on them.
Had this bout been when the two men were in their prime, we feel that Wanheng would have had the better of this. He would have been too accurate, to smart with his flurries, and able to dig deep late on to take a hard fought, hotly contest, but clear decision, an 8-4 or possible 9-3 type of decision. Likely after going behind early on. Now however it's a hard call. At Minimumweight 36 is ancient, and that could be a major issue for the former WBC champion. However we also wonder how easily Knockout makes weight, and whether his low work rate has had something to do with struggling to boil down to 105lbs in more recent years. If that's the case, Wanheng is not the man he wants to face. Instead Wanheng is a nightmare for him. The pressure from Wanheng, which doesn't always come with punches but, is draining to fight against and if that pressure can take the movement away from a 31 year old Knockout he will become something of a target for Wanheng's eye catching combinations in the later rounds. Knockout might well find himself being out-Knockout'd here by a smart, more experienced, more polished, and busier version of himself.
We imagine Knockout will look to get a lead and keep it, only to see it slip away from him late on, with Wanheng's having an intensified late march to the title, and potentially retiring on top of the sport.
Prediction - UD12 Wanheng
This coming Friday we'll see IBF Minimumweight champion Rene Mark Cuarto (20-2-2, 11) look to make his second defense, as he takes on under-rated Mexican challenger Daniel Valladares (26-3-1, 15) in a really exciting looking bout set to take place in Monterrey.
Although not well known outside of the Philippines the 25 year old Cuarto, dubbed the Mighty Mouse, has managed to carve out a pretty decent career so far. He made his professional debut in 2014 and reeled off 3 wins before slipping up against Jeralrd Paclar in 2015, in the first of 3 bouts between the two men. He bounced back from that loss with 6 wins before rematch Paclar in a bout that resulted in a technical draw between the two men. An instant rematch saw Cuarto avenging the two early career blotches and begin his move towards bigger and better bouts, winning the WBO Oriental title in 2018 before losing in an IBF eliminator against Samuel Salva. Since that loss we've seen him going 4-0-1 (2) with a win in 2021 against Pedro Taduran, for the IBF title, and a highly controversial second win against Taduran earlier this year to record his first defense.
In the ring Taduran is a technical boxer, who likes to use his legs, move around the ring and use his speed and timing to punish mistakes from opponents. Sadly his style isn't the most fan friendly and it can get sloppy at times, as we saw in the rematch with Taduran. He is certainly talented, but he lacks the physicality to be an elite level Minimumweight, and his style almost begs for pressure fighters to take the fight to him. He's tricky and quick, but in all honest there is little that makes him feel like anything other than a short term champion. Sadly for him he's not been able to "sell" a shot to the highest bigger, which is likely what he and his team would have hoped for, but instead has had to travel to Mexico for a mandatory in just his second defense.
Aged 28 Daniel Valladares has long been on the radar for fans of the lower weights. "Cejitas" also debuted in 2014, and like many on the Mexican domestic scene, he was busy, really busy, early on. He would fight 4 times in 2014, 4 times in 2015 and 4 tomes in 2016, as he developed his experience and his style against limited opponents. During that run he went 11-1, losing his final bout of 2016 to Genaro Rios in what looks to be something of an oddity. That loss was his first 8 rounders and he quickly bounced back, whilst slowly stepping up his competition and winning his first minor title soon afterwards. In 2018 he stepped up and beat Adrien Curiel Dominguez, less than a year later he beat former world champion Merlito Sabillo and then beat Christian Araneta in an IBF world title eliminator. He got his shit at the IBF Light Flyweight title just 5 months later, in a bout that ended in a draw against Pedro Taduran. Following that loss things went off the boil completely, as we suspect his motivation died as he suffered back to back upset losses, before bouncing back last year with 3 wins, including one against former world title challenger Julian Yedras.
In the ring Valladares is dangerous, at least when he's focused. He's big and tall at the weight, and although somewhat crude, he knows he can often get away with taking risks as his offense is his best defense. He his hard enough to get respect, has a decent enough chin to take a shit and a high work rate. He lacks in terms of polish, and is more of a fighter than a boxer, but his action style is a hard one to deal with. There is very much a case of machismo with him, and when he was cut by a headclash against Pedro Taduran you could tell he was angry and wanted revenge. Despite that it's clear he is a solid and well schooled boxer, who has got technical ability, but prefers a tear up.
Sadly for Cuarto travelling to Mexico for a world title fight, either as the champion or challenger, is much like travelling to the UK, Argentina or Thailand. The away fighter will not get any favours from the officials and will also be fighting in front of crazy fans cheering on their man. For a fighter like Cuarto, who is technical, wants to fight off the back foot, and rely more on counter punching and skills than fire power and work rate, a fight in Mexico is never going to go his way, especially not against a rugged, aggressive fighter like Valladares.
We suspect the pressure, work rate and sheer violence of Valladares will play a major role here in dragging Cuarto into the wrong type of fight. That, along with vociferous fans going crazy when Valldares does anything, leads to the Mexico to a clear lead on the cards, before head clashes force an early end to the bout, with a few rounds left.
Prediction - TD9 Valladares
On April 22nd we'll see WBO Minimumweight champion Masataka Taniguchi (15-3, 10) [谷口将隆] make his first defense, as he takes on the hard hitting Kai Ishizawa (10-1, 9) [石澤開] in a mouth watering match up that promises explosive action. For Taniguchi the bout is a chance for him to build on his big win over Wilfredo Mendez late last year, and notch a second victory over Ishizawa whilst also keeping his title. As for Ishizawa, the bout is about much more than the belt, and for him the contest seems personal as he attempts to avenge the sole defeat on his record. With a bit of history between the two men we expect this to be something of a personal bout, and quite possible one of the real hidden gems for the month.
Of the two men the more accomplished is Taniguchi, clearly. He was a notable Japanese amateur before turning to the professional ranks, and there was a lot of expectations on his shoulders. He, and fellow Watanabe Gym fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi, were seen as the next generation of fighters at the gym, and the men to replace the likes of Takashi Uchiyama, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kohei Kono. Both were rushed to notable fights, but sadly for Taniguchi he would come up short in his bigger bouts, losing against Reiya Konishi, Tsubasa Koura and Vic Saludar. Despite those losses it was clear he was a real talent, who had the tools to go all the way, but just fell short in bouts with the most on the line. Tellingly however he has rebuilt and used those losses to build his hunger, which has resulted in him winning his last 4 bouts, including his victories over Ishizawa in 2019, a win over Hizuki Saso for the Japanese title in 2020 and his win over Mendez last year for the WBO title.
In the ring Taniguchi is a very high level boxer-puncher, with under-rated body punching, good shot selection and an impressive array of technical skills. He's not a huge puncher, or the mot aggressive, the most physically imposing, but he's a very solid boxer, who can do everything, very well without being excellent in any specific area. As a fighter he's proven to have a solid chin, good work rate, a good engine and be willing to dig deep late in bouts. Sadly though whilst he is very good his flaws can be targeted, and his lack of being incredible in any area does leave him with areas where opponents can target him. For example Vic Saludar was too strong, and managed to force Taniguchi to back up a lot, however he will given anyone a tough bout and with his confidence at an all time high, it's fair to say only genuine world class fighters will be able to beat him. He has, after all, improved a lot from his losses.
Aged 25 Kai Ishizawa is a nightmare for the division, as he continues to develop from a young man with terrifying physical strength and power, into a man in his prime years. He is very much a fearsome individual and arguably the most dangerous man in the 105lb weight class. He turned professional without much fan fare, joining the likes of Junto Nakatani at the MT Gym, but quickly started to build a reputation for himself with his power, aggression and eye catching style. Things were boosted when he stopped Tatsuro Nakashima and then claimed the Japanese Youth title with an impressive win over Yuga Inoue. Sadly for Ishizawa his winning run came to an end in 2019 when he was beaten by Taniguchi, though since then he had gone 4-0 (3) and claimed the Japanese national title, with a win over Katsuki Mori this past January.
Unlike many Minimumweights Ishizawa doesn't get into the ring to just win, but instead win inside the distance. By pressing, bullying and pounding his opponents in the pursuit of a stoppage. He typically fights behind a tight, high guard, presses forward, and looks to break opponents down with his physicalpressure, heavy hands and brutal shots. He mixes things up nicely, to head and body, and makes fighters wilt under his pressure. So far only two fighters have survived the distance with him, Taniguchi and Yuni Takada, and coming in to this bout it's clear that Ishizawa doesn't want Taniguchi to repeat the act. He will also have learned form that loss, and will now know that against a fighter liek Taniguchi he really can't wait like he did in the first fight, and instead needs to be more intense, get closer, and let his hands fly more willingly.
As seen in their first bout, there is no denying that Taniguchi is the better boxer. He's more agile, uses straight punches well, picks his shots excellently and is all round a more complete fighter than Ishizawa. He managed to neutralise Ishizawa for stretches in their first bout, and although Ishizawa was always dangerous it was a pretty clear win for Taniguchi.
For things to change here Ishizawa will need to make Taniguchi uncomfortable. He will need to get close, rip the body more, and get his uppercuts off. He will need to push Taniguchi on to the ropes, take his movement away and get to work. If he can do that, he stands a genuine chance of avenging his loss and claiming the WBO title.
Notably though we see Ishizawa again struggling to get into range and get his shots off. What we're expecting is for Taniguchi to keep things long, use his quicker legs early on, take some steam out of Ishizawa in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Hold when he needs to. In the second half a more tired Ishizawa will be slower anyway, and from there Taniguchi should be able to pick, poke and prod his way to either a decision win or a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO12 Taniguchi
In 2021 we saw Rene Mark Cuarto (19-2-2, 11)claim the biggest win of his career, defeating Pedro Taduran (14-3-1, 11) to claim the IBF Minimumweight title, in a still rare all-Filipino world title bout. This coming Saturday, 11 months after their first bout, the men will be facing off again, with Cuarto seeking his first defense, and Taduran looking to become only the third man to reclaim the title.
In their first bout it was Taduran was seeking his second defense he had won the belt in 2019, stopping Samuel Salva in a really fun 4 rounder, with his first defense coming in 2020 when a head clash forced a technical draw against Daniel Valladares. Had it not been for the pandemic we suspect there would have been a rematch of that bout, but instead the pandemic limited travel, and Minimumweight world title bouts became few and far between. As a result Taduran took more than a year year to return following his first defense, as he took on Taduran and lost a close and competitive 12 round decision bout. For Cuarto the win was the biggest of his career, by far, and that came despite the fact he had been out of the ring for well over a year himself.
The key to the first bout was the style clash between the two men. Taduran was the aggressor, taking center ring and often chasing Cuarto around the ring. Cuarto on the other hand used a lot of movement, picked nice counter shots, and prevented Taduran from really setting his feet and letting big shots go. It was a smart game plan from Cuarto and one that, ultimately, won him the fight, though one that really didn't leave a lot of margin for error over 12 rounds, the negativity could have cost him, had the judges swung just a single round against him.
Notably we expect that first bout to be very, very similar to how the rematch will go. Cuarto will continue to use the ring, move around, use his counter punching and look to draw errors from Taduran, errors he can counter. As for Taduran we expect him to be more aggressive, more intense and hungrier than he was in the first bout. At times he was following Cuarto, rather than cutting the ring off. This time around we expect to see more him using body shots early to take Cuarto's legs away, side stepping to cut the ring down rather than following his man, and timing Cuarto better than he did in their first bout.
Of the two men it's hard to argue that Cuarto is the better boxer. He showed that in their first bout. He's a crisper puncher, a better mover, picks his shots better and holds when he needs to. However Taduran is the stronger fighter, the bigger puncher and arguably the tougher man. He needs to make those traits matter here. He needs to be aggressive, more so than last time, and he needs to bully Cuarto around up close. Especially in the early rounds. Sap his energy, and make Cuarto work harder to create space.
Interestingly we suspect this bout will see Taduran take home the victory, with him coming in much hungrier than he did in his first bout. It won't be tidy, and it won't be clean, and Cuarto will try to make the bout messier and messier it as it goes longer, but we see the judges siding with the former champion, his aggression, his work rate, and his forward march, rather than Cuarto's movement, boxing and somewhat negative tricks.
Given how tired Cuarto seemed at times in their first bout there is a chance he could be stopped, but instead we expect his survival tactics will keep him in the bout, but he will come up short on the cards.
Prediction - UD12 Taduran
In 2020 the Minimumweight division got one it's most notable results in recent years as Panya Pradabsri (37-1, 23) dethroned long term WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (55-1, 19), ending Menayothin's unbeaten record, at 54 fights, and 6 year reign as the WBC champion. The bout wasn't just a changing of the guard at 105lbs, but was also a really good bout, with fantastic back and forth, and was, genuinely, one of the best bouts the division has seen in the last decade or so, with Panya taking a close, and some what controversial decision.
Interestingly going into that bout Wanheng had announced his retirement, he had complained about health issues, and it seemed almost as if the bout was little more than a passing of the torch from one of the faces of Thai boxing to the next generation. In the bout however Wanheng didn't look like someone wanting to retire. In fact he looked like someone who was angry about the way his promoter had treat him, and he gave Panya all he could handle, as if Wanheng was himself wanting to ruin the plans of the promoters of the event.
Coming in to this bout things feel very, very different to how they did ahead of their first bout. Wanheng isn't openly talking about retirement, he hasn't got a 54 fight unbeaten run, or the WBC title and instead he's coming in as the challenger. He's also coming in as a man who will want to reclaim what he lost in November 2020. He is however now 36 years old, and that is absolutely ancient for a Minimumweight fighter. Sure we have had an older Minimumweight world champion, with Muhammad Rachman winning the WBA title aged 39, but 36 is still very, very old for the division. For a fighter with the style of Wanheng, age is a potential issue, as he presses forward, uses pressure, and combinations to win rounds, and doesn't have the "Rock Breaker" power of someone like Rachman.
On the other hand Panya has shines as a champion. He won the title, as previously mentioned, back in November 2020, but since then he has only defend the title once, and that was a surprisingly competitive bout with Danai Ngiabphukhiaw, more competitive than the scores cards suggested. He has taken the title and improved since winning the belt, but has seemingly plateaued, or even started to regress. He's 30 himself, which is certainly youngster for the division, and he has got people breathing down his neck for a world title fight, not just Wanheng. We get the feeling that, whilst Wanheng was a long term champion, Panya is going to be something akin to a transitional champion, holding the belt for just a few short years before someone really takes the title, and runs with it.
In the ring Wanheng is one of the smarter Minimumweights. He's not a heavy handed fighter, like some of the emerging fighters in the division, or a man with a huge work rate, or incredible speed. Instead he's a consistent, intelligent pressure fighter, who uses a tight guard, deliberate foot based pressure, a good solid jab, and lets combinations go when he's up close. He's tough, he has a very solid defense, and knows how to win rounds, when to put his foot on the gas, and when to cruise. He's crafty, skilled, and even at 36 it's hard to imagine his skills fading too much with his age, though his work rate might be less than it was back in 2020. The one main issue for him is his footwork, he was never the quickest, and at 36 we imagine his feet will be slower than ever before.
Panya on the other hand is a boxer puncher. He likes to have full extension on his shots, have some space to work with and his straight punches are his keys to victory. Notably he is one of the best body punchers at 105lbs, and he has got a good work rate. He's struggled when fighters have been quicker than him, something we saw against Danai where he never really pinned down his man, but he's not slow himself and when he is the quicker man he can use the ring really well on the back foot, as well on the front foot. He's heavy handed for a Minimumweight, without being a truly destructive fighter, and his shots do have an effect, though we do wonder if that power can hold against genuine world level fighters.
In their first fight Panya started well, took an early lead, and managed to just keep his nose in the end. That was despite a huge effort from Wanheng late on as he looked to take out Panya and keep a hold of his belt. It was an effort that showed the veteran still had plenty of life in his legs, and was a good enough finish to make many feel he had done enough to retain his title, though that wasn't a view shared by any of the judges.
This time around we expect something similar. We expect to see Panya start well, but we expect his good start to continue deeper into the fight, before Panya gets on his toes in the final rounds, neutralising the pressure and big finish of Wanheng. Much like the first bout this be competitive, it will be exciting, and much like the first bout, Panya will retain his title with a close decision. Though this time around this will be less close than their first bout.
Prediction - UD12 Panya
This coming Tuesday the Kokugikan will play host to two world title bouts. One of those is the much anticipated return to a Japanese ring for the Monster Naoya Inoue, the other however is a bout that is getting over-looked, but will likely be a compelling and competitive bout, not something we're expecting of Inoue's contest.
That bout is a WBO Minimumweight mandatory title bout, as defending champion Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6) takes on Masataka Taniguchi (14-3, 9) in a very, very intriguing match up that could help shake up a division that has been disappointing lacking in action the past two years. The bout will be Mendez's third defense since beating Vic Saludar for the title back in August 2019, but his first bout in almost 2 years, with his last one being back in February 2020 against the very limited Gabriel Mendoza. For Taniguchi the bout will be his second world title bout, and he'll be looking to build on a 3 fight winning run at domestic level.
Aged 25 Mendez is one of just two current world champions from Puerto Rico, with the other being Jonathan Gonzalez, and he is really carrying the flag for a country that has such a rich boxing history. He is a talented southpaw, who has been a professional since 2016 and has fought through the Americas, with bouts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Panama. He has also beaten a number of notable names, with two wins over Axel Aragon Vega, who gave Hiroto Kyoguchi a tough test earlier this year, and his career best win over Vic Saludar. He's an awkward, skilled, fast fighter, but one who lacks power and has gotten lucky at home a couple of times, notably in his second bout against Vega back in late 2019. Sadly he has, as mentioned, been inactive recently, and this is set to be his first bout in Asia, two things that could be pivotal here against Taniguchi in Tokyo.
In the ring Mendez, known as "Bimbito" is a southpaw who likes to keep range, makes the most of his jab, and fights at distance, often on the back foot. He's slippery, he has solid defensive skills and a good boxing brain, as well as good size for a fighter at 105lbs. Sadly though he does seem to lack power and conviction in his own arsenal, fiddling away at times, rather than asserting himself. It's worked, mostly, for him so far, but there is a real question mark over whether his tactics would have the same success away from home, where judges are perhaps less likely to give him rounds based on his jab, and somewhat negative movement. He has got nice shots in his arsenal, but all too often he doesn't seem to have the belief to use them, and instead moves and jabs.
Aged 27 Masataka Taniguchi is one of the more talented Minimumweights out there, but also a man who has just fallen short in a number of bouts during his career. He turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi, and the two were pretty much on the same type of trajectory early on with Watanabe Gym viewing the two as future stars of the gym.
Sadly whilst Kyoguchi has gone from strength to strength Taniguchi has had slip ups, such as his 2017 loss to Reiya Konishi, in a bout that as tight and as close as they come with Konishi taking a narrow majority decision. Similarly his second loss was equally as close and competitive, just 7 months later, against Tsubasa Koura. With a modicum of good fortune he could have taken wins in both of those bouts. His third loss, in 2019, was a clear one to Vic Saludar, and showed that whilst he was good, he wasn't good enough at that point to be a world champion. Notably however since that loss he has improved, notably, ans reeled off 3 of his best wins to date, beating Kai Ishizawa, Hizuki Saso and Tatsuro Nakashima, whilst winning and defending the Japanese Minimumweight title. He now seems a more determined, more polished and more compete fighter than ever before and he's learned from his set backs.
In the ring is a boxer-puncher, with an aggressive mindset, a mindset that has really come about following his losses where a little bit more aggression would likely have made a difference. He presses well, and he's intelligent, bringing intelligent pressure into the ring, looking for holes, and then making opponents pay. Although not a concussive puncher, few Minimumweights are, his straight left hand gets respect from opponents and does damage, especially with how clean he lands it. Although an aggressive fighter, he's not a reckless one, instead he's a really deliberate one, and what he throws usually lands on the target. Whilst he is a good offensive fighter, his foot work can be a bit flat, and against Mendez that could be an issue, and his punches, whilst sharp, aren't the quickest.
For Mendez his key to victory is forcing distance, staying away and fighting behind his jab, and moving. Taniguchi on the other hand will be looking to press and pressure the champion, whilst taking his legs away with good body shots. Who ever can control the distance here should win. Sadly for Mendez we suspect his inactivity and the fact he's fighting in Japan, in less than ideal circumstances, will be a major issue. We suspect he'll start well, but as the bout goes on his tank will empty, and when that happens we suspect Taniguchi will come on strong, and eventually get to his man, breaking him down late in the bout.
Prediction - TKO10 Taniguchi
Much of the attention on the boxing world this coming Tuesday will be in Japan, for a world title double header, there is however one other world title bout taking place, this time in Thailand, as long reigning WBA Minimumweight "Super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart (22-0, 8) defends his title against Filipino challenger Robert Paradero (18-1, 12).
The talented 31 year old champion is one of the longest reigning active world champions in the sport, and he has held every version of a WBA title over the years. He won the interim title way back in 2014, won the regular title in 2016 and was finally upgraded to super champion behind his 2020 bout with Norihito Tanaka. Sadly whilst his reign has been long, and has included notable wins over the likes of Byron Rojas, Carlos Buitrago, Chaozhong Xiong, Rey Loreto and Muhammad Rachman, it's been a rather boring reign. He's not looked like "Knockout" CP Freshmart and more "Decision CP Freshmart", and he falls somewhat in the same vein as Devin Haney, Dmitry Bivol and Demetrius Andrade in focusing on winning first, rather than entertaining. As a result a lot of his bouts feel like they drag on, especially in the later stages when he often becomes more reserved and more cautious.
At his best Knockout is an excellent boxer. He's intelligent, he moves well, he's clean and accurate with his punches, creates spaces, and has respectable power. There's not really too many areas to pick on regarding his skillset, though that doesn't change the fact he often fights well within himself, and is rarely pushed. Despite not having many flaws, there is some areas where's not great. His power is certainly not terrifying, his out put limited at times, there are question marks about his stamina, and we do wonder how easily he makes 105lbs given he is now 31. It's clear he is among the very best at 105lbs, but we do feel that there fighters out there who have the tools to beat him, and we think a high output fighter, with a good chin, would his Kryptonite to him.
Aged 25 Robert Paradero is a Filipino fighter who turned professional in 2014, and quietly made his name fighting at home. He won his first 18 bouts without really facing anyone of note, and it was disappointing not to see his team push him hard and actually get him decent tests and experience. It was clear he was very talented but beating the likes of Ian Ligutan, Jong Sabellina and Jonathan Almacen did little more than pad his record, and didn't get him the developmental rounds he really needed before facing a major step up. Sadly for him he was moved up, big time, earlier this year and his lack of decent level experience showed as he lost a competitive split decision to Vic Saludar for the WBA "Regular" Minimumweight title. With a few solid developmental fights he could well have beaten Saludar, but didn't have the experience he needed. Sadly coming in to this bout, Saludar is the only man of note that Paradero has faced, and it again feels like he hasn't yet had the developmental fights that he needs to face someone like Knockout CP Freshmart.
In the ring Paradero is a very nice boxer, he has a nice sharp sharp, he knows hoe to move around the ring and decent speed. Sadly though he did look out of ideas when he faced Saludar, and as the fight went on he became more and more negative, skirting around the outside of the ring whilst looking worried about the power and physicality of Saludar. It was clearly a game plan, to move and make the slower Saludar chase him, but he simply didn't do enough at times and waited too long to let his own shots go. He never looked out classed against Saludar, but he looked like a man who was simply fighting the wrong fight and failing to make the most of the opportunity. He also didn't do enough, and was far too conservative for much of the bout. He looked relaxed, even in the later stages, but he failed to put his foot on the gas in the final seconds of rounds and tried to steal them.
If Paradero was given a year of Oriental level fights, given those types of bouts to mature, develop and prepare for a world title bout, we honestly think he could pick up a title. He's got a lot going for him, but needs testing bouts to develop and learn. Sadly jumping from low level domestic foes, to Saludar and then to Knockout is not the way to develop a world champion.
Sadly travelling to Thailand is never easy, beating Knockout CP Freshmart will never be easy, and doing that after having no wins of note will also not be easy. We suspect Parader will start well, he'll have success with his speed and his long, looping shots, but overall that success will be limited and instead we'll see Knockout control large swathes of the bout. To do that he will dictate the range and tempo of the bout, he will counter Paradero, and make him think twice about throwing shots, and after 8 or 9 rounds he'll be in a comfortable lead and cruise to the final bell, and his latest defense.
Prediction - UD12 Knockout CP Freshmar
The last couple of years have not been good ones for the Minimumweight division, with very few of the top fighters actually fighting, and very, very few world title bouts taking place at 105lbs. One of the few notable results from the division since the start of the pandemic was the surprising win by Panya Pradabsri (36-1, 23) over Wanheng Menayothin in 2020, for the WBC Minimumweight title. The bout saw Panya claim the title, dethroning the then 54-0 Wanehng, and end a long reign by Wanheng, who went in as the favourite and seemed destined to retire with one of the most stunning looking records in the sports history.
Since winning the title, in November 2020, Panya hasn't had the chance to defend the belt. Sadly for most of the last 2 years, travelling into Thailand has been incredibly difficult, and as a result no title contenders have been willing or able to travel over. Sadly those issues are still there, however Panya will be defending his title this coming Tuesday. Unfortunately it's not against a top opponent, or as many hoped a rematch with Wanheng, but instead it'll be in a bout with the relatively unknown Danai Ngiabphukhiaw (9-2, 5), who is also a Thai.
The talented Panya showed what he could do in his title win last year. In that bout he looked very accomplished, and although we though he was lucky against Wanheng it was clear that he was very competitive, and wasn't out of place at world level. He was quick, he skilled, he picked his shots well, and he could both fight, box, and brawl when he needed to. He also showed a really experienced head, starting fast, taking an early lead, and protecting it through the bout. It didn't make for the most fun to watch performance, in what was a genuinely good bout, but it was calculated, it intelligent from Panya.
Whilst that was the first time many had seen Panya it is worth noting that's not his usual type of fight. He can certainly box, but he often seems happier to fight, and he's a big, strong, powerful fighter at 105lbs. He's got very heavy hands and throws some brutal body shots, both up close and at range. He likes beating up opponents who aren't fit to face him, and that's what we expect to see from him here. We expect him to make his first defense in style, and beat up a challenger, rather than control him, and the tempo of the bout, like he did against Wanheng.
Whilst Panya announced himself in 2020 with his win over Wanheng, Danai Ngiabphukhiaw was just ticking over and being busy, picking up 5 wins in 2020, and 2 mote this year. The 21 year old can't be criticised for his activity, and has fought 11 times since March 2019. Looking at the numbers on his record, it is worth noting that he has lost twice, though both of those losses came in his first 4 bouts, and he has gone 7-0 since then. Sadly however his wins have come against very, very low level opponents, and the most notable fighter he's faced is Thananchai Charunphak, who stopped Danai in 4 rounds. His 9 wins have come against dreadful opposition, and strangely the combined records of his wins has been 44-44.
Danai Ngiabphukhiaw, dubbed "Laser Man", is a promising youngster, but he is very much a young man learning his trade against limited fighters. Watching him we see a fighter who has got some nice skills, but they are unpolished, and he makes a lot of mistakes. His defense is poor, his offense is predictable, he lacks power, he gets caught coming in, and his footwork is predictable. He seems to want to fight as a counter puncher, but against his opponents so far he has struggled to draw leads, and looks like a novice. He is from a stream team of fighters, so will be progressing behind the scenes, but is a long, long way from being ready for a world title fight.
It's fair to say we are not expecting anything other than a win for Panya, and a relatively easy one. In fact we expect him to stop his challenger within 4 or 5 rounds, which shaking some ring rust and tuning up for bigger and better fights down the line. We like busy champions, and this is better than him sitting on the side lines, but it's a poor fight against a very, very inexperienced and limited challenger.
We expect Panya will take a few rounds to see if Danai is hiding something, before moving into third gear and taking out his challenger, likely with a body shot.
Prediction - TKO4 Panya
The Minimumweight division over the last 20 months has been frustratingly quiet, with very, very little happening since the start of the Covid19 pandemic. It's been the among the most frustrating divisions in the sport with champions being pretty inactive and challengers also lacking in terms of activity, forcing the division to almost stand still at times.
We get the the WBC title and the IBF title have changed hands since the start of 2020 but since the start of 2020 we have only seen two IBF title fights a single WBC, WBA "super", WBO and WBA "Regular" title fight. That's at world level. We have also seen a lack of bouts at regional level, and even on the Japanese domestic scene.
Thankfully it seems like this could be set to change through what's left of 2021 and the division might finally begin to come alive once again.
Kicking off the potential revival of the Minimumweight division we'll see world title action this coming Tuesday as WBA "super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7) defends his title against fellow Thai Pongsaklek Sithdabnij (23-6-1, 13). This is a rare "Bloodline Battle", a world title bout between two Thais, and sadly it looks like a massive down grade from the last one, which incidentally saw Panya Pradabsri dethrone Wanheng Menayothin for the WBC title. Unlike that bout however, there will be significantly less international interest here, and very, very few will give the under-dog any kind of a chance. At all.
The unbeaten 31 year old champion, also known as Thammanoon Niyomtrong, has held some version of the WBA Minimumweight title since beating Carlos Buitrago in October 2014, for the "interim" title. Back that he was an exciting unbeaten hopeful stepping up his competition quickly, and looked like a breath of fresh air, with a unique fighting name. Since then he has claimed the WBA "regular" and "super" titles and become one of the few foundations for which the division has been built around, along with Wanheng. Sadly though he's also proven to be a very frustrating fighter to follow and someone who is lacking that extra gear, or may more exactly lacking the willingness to move into that top gear. In many ways he's of the same mentality, although different style, to Dmitry Bivol. It's clear he's talented but as long as he's winning he doesn't care about the style in which he wins.
Knockout is a talented fighter, he's a clean puncher, he's got solid defense, a good ring IQ and he knows his way around the ring. There is no denying his talent. This guy can box. Sadly though he's not very exciting. He lacks power, he lacks tenacity and work rate, and seems to also struggle with stamina. He keeps a predictable pace through much of the bout, coming alive early on, and controlling behind his under-rated foot and clean counter puncher. Earlier in his career he was much more exciting, but seems to have willingly tuned that down to fight safely, and to just defend his title, without creating any fuss or drama. In fact the most drama his recent bouts have had came from when ArAr Andales took the fight to him and we went to the scorecards early due to a cut. That fight aside there been no drama in a Knockout bout for years.
Again that's not to say the champion can't fight, he can. He's beaten Byron Rojas twice, Carlos Buitrago twice, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xiong Zhao Zhong. He's just not exciting.
Pongsaklek Sithdabnij, also known as Siridech Deebook, is a 29 year old fighter who really isn't too well known. In fact fans who don't follow boxing outside of Asia will almost certainly know nothing about him, other than that he has taken the fighting name of a former Flyweight great, And there's good reason for that. There's not too much to talk about when it comes to Pongsaklek, despite managing to turn his career around, massively, he's not really proven himself as being ready for a world title fight. In fact he's almost certainly getting this fight due to Covid19 restrictions regarding travel in and out of Thailand.
The challenger debuted in 2009 and began his career with 3 straight losses, and was 0-3-1 after 4 bouts. Following that stumble he managed to find his groove in 2015, including a major upset over the then 22-0 Kongfah Nakornluang, winning 11 in a row to get his career going. Since then things haven't been plain sailing however and he's gone 12-3, losing to Yudel Reyes, Kompayak Porpramook and Marco John Rementizo. Not exactly Murderers' Row. He has also struggled in other bouts, narrowly over-coming Kompayak in a rematch, limping past Romshane Sarguilla, and edging a bout with Seksan Khumdee. Again not exactly the competition of an upcoming world title challenger.
In the ring Pongsaklek is the type of fighter who looks like he's always doubting himself. He's not quick, sharp, powerful or particularly polished. He's young and hungry but lacks the tools to really dominate fights. Against Kompayak for example, he was lucky the former world champion was heading towards his 40's. He doesn't throw a lot unless he absolutely needs to, he doesn't look confident and he certainly doesn't have fight changing power. Notably he has fought at Flyweight in the past, and is going to be big at Minimumweight, but he's not shown himself to be someone who uses his size well. When he does get more aggressive, and to his credit he can dig deep and up his work rate, he looks very sloppy and doesn't have that clean, crisp quality to his punches that we want to see at world level. He's just, sadly, very average in pretty much every way.
Given what we've seen from both men we expect Knockout to start well, take control early and then simply out box Pongsaklek, who will look to move through the gears, but will be sloppy in his offense, will be left chasing Knockout a lot, and will be countered, tied up and hitting the air a lot in the second half of the bout.
Although this is a world title bout at 105lbs between two Thai's we're not expecting a great fight. We are expecting a bit of a sloppy, dull, clear decision for the champion, who needs a run out after more than a year of inactivity.
Prediction - UD12 Knockout CP Freshmart
(Note this preview was written for the bout's originally scheduled May date, and has had minor edits for the new October date, sadly however the reality is that the Minimumweight division has continued to be very, very quiet since May).
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