The Minimumweight division has had a very, very, under-rated year in 2016 with the key part of that being the Thai pairing of WBC champion Wanehng Menayothin, who defeated mandatory challenger Saul Juarez, and WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart (13-0, 6) who scored notable wins over the Nicaraguan pairing of Carlos Buitrago and Byron Rojas. Knockout will look to close out the year with one more notable win as he takes on former OPBF champion Shin Ono (19-7-3, 3).
Knockout, who has fought in title bouts through out his professional boxing career, claimed the WBA interim title in late 2014, with a close win over Carlos Buitrago, but has improved since then as he showed in his second bout with Buitrago. That rematch with Buitrago was Knockout's 3rd defense of the interim title with the talented Thai claiming the full version of title when he out boxed Byron Rojas in June.
At his worst Knockout can look a bit clumsy, a bit stationary and a but lazy in the ring, with his style being a fairly rigid one. Thankfully though it does seem, fight by fight, that he's improving and is becoming a more rounded fighter, taking lessons from every fight he has. That doesn't mean he's a totally rounded fighter but he is one that is showing real improvement. His guard is strong, his footwork is very under-rated and his hands, whilst not concussive, are heavy. Given that he's fighting in Thailand he's also well adjusted to the Thai conditions, has solid stamina, even in the humidity of The land of Smiles, and can step it up if he needs to late in a bout.
At his best Ono is a solid fighter, he's a tricky southpaw with nice movement, nice speed and good skills. He does however lack in terms of power, stamina and in recent fights he has began to look like a 33, soon to be 34, year old who has had a hard career. A May 2015 loss to Katsunari Takayama, for the IBF title, saw Ono impress but it would be 26 months until he would have another bout of note and was dominated by a hungry Kenichi Horikawa, who became the first man to stop Ono. Last time out Ono was being outboxed by Tatsuya Fukuhara before a headclash bailed out Ono with a technical draw.
Through his career Ono has fought numerous notable opponents. That has seen him claim wins over the Toshimasa Ouchi, Yu Kimura, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Omari Kimweri, but the most recent of those notable wins was the win over Kimweri almost 4 years ago. Added to the poor recent form is inactivity, which has seen him fighting just 3 times in the last 24 months, going 1-1-1 during that run.
At his best Ono may have given the worst Knockout a good bout, but the reality is that Ono is a faded fighter and Knockout is a drastically improving one who should be able to bully and break down the challenger, likely ending the bout in the later rounds.
When we get asked about our favourite fighter we often list the names that everyone will enjoy watching. Guys like Takashi Miura, Manny Pacquiao, Takashi Uchiyama, and Shinsuke Yamanaka are amongst the first names we come out with. Another is IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (26-6-0-1, 10) who has the old school mentality of fighting anyone to prove how good he is.
Takayama's record bares the scars of his attitude to boxing. If you fight the best often enough you will lose fights and that's what he's done to the likes of Eagle Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez and Nkosinathi Joyi. At the time of fighting those men 3 of them were regarded as the best fighter in the Minimumweight division.
It's the attitude of Takayama that has made us fans. He's shown a willingness to fight the best, he's called for unification fights repeatedly, he's chased the IBF title, that he now holds, around the globe and he seems intent on claiming the WBO belt to become the first Japanese fighter to have held all 4 world titles. It's a fresh attitude, it's brave and it's great. If more fighters had the same mentality we'd have a much better sport.
It's not just the mentality of Takayama out of the ring that is so good but also inside the ring. At his best he's a buzzsaw with movement, toughness, bravery and work rate. He may not have the power of Pacquiao but stylistically there are a lot of similarities with what made Pacquiao so popular.
On May 7th Takayama attempts to defend his IBF title for the second time as he battles challenger Shin Ono (17-5-2, 2) in what we view as a bit of a stay busy defence against his countryman and whilst that sounds harsh it's not supposed to be, we just think Takayama is in a league of 2 with South African Hekkie Budler as his only real rival.
Ono is a good fighter. He is a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion and he holds notable wins over both Yu Kimura and Xiong Zhao Zhong as well as an unbeaten record dating back to 2011.
In a perfect world Zhong wouldn't have lost his WBC world title to Oswoldo Novoa earlier this year. That would have left a much anticipated unification between Takayama and Zhong. Instead Takayama is fighting the man who last beat Zhong before the Chinese fighter became a world champion. It's not ideal but it does make a little bit of sense.
In regards to how the fight is expected to go. Ono is a decent enough fighter to make Takayama work to defend his title, but isn't good enough to really trouble him. The challenger lacks the traits needed to beat Takayama, the timing, skills, power and speed. Ono is good enough to be world ranked, with the IBF #10 ranking making a lot more sense than the WBO #6 ranking he also holds, but the southpaw has never been in with someone as complete as the champion who we expect will take a clear, though hard fought, decision to retain his title.
We're hoping that if things go as expected we'll see Takayama meet Budler later this year in an IBF/WBA unification bout in either Japan, South Africa or Monaco.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe Gym)
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.