So far world title action in Asia has been lacking for 2016 with Thailand really stealing all the headlines at the world level. That changes in early March, however the first title bout of the new month is another from the Land of Smiles and is one that in all honesty looks like being a bit of a mismatch in favour of the champion, and one of the sport's most under-rated champions.
That champion is 30 year old Thai Wanheng Menayothin (40-0, 15) who looks to defend the WBC Minimumweight title for the 4th time since ripping it out of the hands of Mexican Oswaldo Novoa in late 2014. The under-rated, and unbeaten, Thai will be up against a former title challenger in the form of Go Odaira (12-4-3, 1), a speed but feather fisted challenger.
Wanheng has one of the sports longest unbeaten records, and it's a record that dates back more than 9 years. Although he holds a long unbeaten record it's one that can easily be criticised with the Thai having only faced a couple of “names” in his 40 fights as a professional.
The first of those names was Florante Condes, who Wanheng beat way back in June 2011. Sadly it would take more than 3 years for him to then face Novoa, one of the poorest champions in recent memory. Since winning the title Wanheng has again failed to face notable opponents, and has instead beaten the likes of Jeffrey Galero, a promising but unproven Filipino youngster, Jerry Tomogdan and limited Korean slugger Young Gil Bae, none of whom deserved a world title fight.
Although Wanehng's record is very thin on names he really does pass the eye test. Defensively he's a very tough boxer to figure out, with a tight guard and an intelligent defensive game plan. Offensively he's a wonderful boxer to watch, applying grinding pressure from the early stages to eventually break his opponents, either mentally or physically. On paper one would assume he's not a puncher, but he has stopped 4 of his last 5 opponents and it seems that he manages to keep his grinding power into the later stages of bouts.
Of course with 40 bouts there will be some wear and tear, but given his tight defensive work Wanheng does look like a very young 30 year old, and despite having 319 rounds on his record he'll be around for a while yet.
Although the challenger it's fair to suggest that Odaira has mixed with better company than the champion. That's because Odaira has shared the ring with Katsunari Takayama, the only man to stop Odaira, with the two facing off at the end of 2014 in an IBF/WBO Minimumweight title bout. He has also fought Ryuji Hara and holds a notable win over former world title challenger Takashi Kunishige.
In the ring Odaira is all about speed, much like his mentor Susumu Hanagata, a former WBA Flyweight champion. Interestingly Hanagata will be one of the biggest helps that Odaira will have with the former champion having already experienced Thai conditions in a competitive loss to Chartchai Chionoi back in 1973, incidentally it was Chionoi who Hanagata beat for his world title in Japan the following year.
Blessed with incredible hand speed and brilliant movement Odaira's gameplan will be be based on getting his shots off and getting away. That sounds easy but in Thailand that's incredibly difficult so he actually spend extra days in Thailand getting used to the heat, humidity and other aspects of the weather. He'll be hoping that helps him prepare, but unfortunately for him the Thai conditions are only part of the problem, with Wanheng being another. Wanheng's style is one that will see Odaira working doubly hard to get out of range, and he will really have to work double hard to avoid the champion.
Although a wonderfully talented boxer this is a very uphill task for Odaira who seems likely to put into a small ring and chased down by Wanheng. We suspect the challenger will have a great start, and will looks sensational at times, but by the middle rounds he'll begin to slow and the champion will start to take over before forcing a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
(Image courtesy of The Champion - Thailand)
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