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
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
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
All-Thai world title bouts are incredibly rare, despite the prolonged success of the country in world boxing. In total there has been only 12, in history, and have been dubbed "Bloodline Battles" in Thailand. On November 27th however we get another, in fact we get the first in over a decade. Not only that but was also get one that has gotten some international attention due to the defending champion, who despite being a Minimumweight has gotten international attention in recent years for his lengthy unbeaten record and reign. The bout isn't just interesting due to the champion however, but also the challenger, who is looking to grab the torch and rip it from one of the current flag bearers of the Thai boxing scene.
The champion in question is the WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (54-0, 18), who's winning run is the longest active run in boxing, exceeds that of former pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr and would, if he retires without a loss, set the new record for the longest 100% winning record of any boxing world champion. Not only is Wanheng boasting an excellent record, on paper at least, but also the longest active world title reign of any man in the sport. At the age of 35 he's ancient for a Minimumweight, and did retire during the summer, before changing his mind and having time to rest and recover from niggling injuries.
In the opposite corner to Wanheng is Panya Pradabsri (34-1, 22), also known as Petchmanee Kokietgym among other names. He's a 29 year old who has been knocking on the door of a big fight for years, but failed to land one. That's despite showing a willingness to fight at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, even going as far as to call out Kenshiro Teraji a few fights back. Sadly he's been pretty much avoided by the top guys, and his most notable bout was a very controversial loss in China to Xiong Zhao Zhong in 2017. Had he won that bout he'd have been in line to face another Thai, Knockout CP Freshmart. Although much less well known than the champion he's someone that has long been viewed as a future champion by those in Thailand, who have seemingly accepted that, with Covid19, his options are limited and battling his countryman is the only option, unless he wants to wait even longer.
It's fair to say that Wanheng is very much a fighter who has had a lot of people looking at him in recent years, even since he had more wins than Mayweather. That has seen some trolling Mayweather and pointing out the raw numbers, something Mayweather himself did when he beat Rocky Marciano's long standing 49-0 record. It has also seen "Money" responding to the haters, further building Wanheng's profile among the wider boxing fan base.
An often mentioned complaint of the Thai is that his competition has been limited, and that does hold some weight, with his competition paling compared to the likes of Mayweather. It isn't however as bad as some suggest and he has scored wins over a number of notable fighters. They include former world champions Florante Condes, Oswaldo Novoa, Tatsuya Fukuhara and current world champion Pedro Taduran. As well as contenders like Melvin Jerusalem, Simpiwe Konkco, Saul Juarez and Ardin Diale.
Leaving his record, and competition behind, Wanheng is a fighter who is very much under-rated by those who don't follow the lower weights. He's a talented, educated, fighter who comes forward behind a tight guard, pressures and forces mistakes from opponents, which he counters. Unlike most counter punches he doesn't create space to open up counter opportunities, but instead gets in an opponents face, and capitalises on mistakes that he forces, often with eye catching combinations and bursts of shots. As he's aged he's slowed slightly, but still looks like a very tough man to beat and someone who has surprising power on his shots. Although his stoppage might suggest he's feather fisted it is worth noting that he is very consistent and every shot has a good bit of sting on it, chipping away at fighters, mentally and physically. When he has a point to prove, as he did in 2018 against Leroy Estrada, he also seems to find an extra gear to really dominate opponents.
Although very talented Wanheng isn't without faults. His style can see him being out worked, and is very much a slow methodical style, that can leave him being handcuffed. He's patient and accurate, but not able to set, or maintain, a high work rate. This has seen him have very close bouts with hungry fighters who set a pace, like his first bout with Tatsuya Fukuhara as well as his bouts with Pedro Taduran and Melvin Jerusalem. The key of setting a high work rate and pinning him behind his guard is a key gameplan, and something we almost saw actually work against Mayweather, with Marcos Maidana having success against the talented American with a similar tactic.
In Panya Pradabsri we have a very different type of fighter. The challenger is a big, tall, powerful boxer-fighter, who can boxer well behind his jab but has better success as a fighter, with a seek and destroy mentality. His body shots are brutal and wicked, and he has belief in his toughess and power. He's proven to be willing to take a show clean when he needs to, walking forward to get to his man. Technically he's a lot less polished than the champion but he's aggressive, younger, hungrier and the much heavier handed. Defensively he does look naive, and is caught a fair big coming in, but looks like he's always confident of landing the bigger single shot, and having the last word in any argument with his big, solid right hands. They might not be crisp and clean, but they look heavy, every time.
The challenger is a man who has waited patiently for his shot, and his chance to shine, and he'll know that a loss here will likely see him needing to wait a real long time for a second shot. With that in mind we suspect he'll not be wanting to leave anything to chance. This isn't just a world title bout, it's potentially his only world title bout and it's also a chance to grab the torch from Wanheng and run with it. With that in mind we're expecting to see Panya fight like a man possessed.
We know many see this, like many Wanheng bouts, as a foregone conclusion. We have feel that it's not. We will happily state that Wanheng is more talented boxer, the crisper puncher and the man with the better defense. That however isn't all it takes to win a fight, and it completely ignores a lot of intangibles. If a fight was purely based on skills, this would almost certainly be the 13th successful defense for Wanheng. At 35 years old, and with talk of retirement, lingering injuries and talk about a loss of desire we wonder whether Wanheng will be the fighter we've seen in the past. He may well see a loss as his chance to escape the sport, retire and move on with life. For the challenger this really is a huge chance to put himself on the boxing map, something he's wanted to do for years, and become one of the new faces of Thai boxing.
With that in mind we're picking Panya Pradabsri to pick up the win here, and do so with a close, competitive, but very fair decision. We see him having that toughness and hunger needed to over-come the 35 year old Wanheng. He'll have to work for it, and we've seen a lot of Thai veteran's in recent years make youngsters work for wins against them, but we see Panya having the tools needed to cope with Wanheng.
Prediction - UD12 Panya Pradabsri
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.