April 2021 looks set to be an incredible month for fight fans, with a wonderful mix of high profile fights at the top level of the sport and bouts at the lower level, and featuring everything in between. It is a month that really should deliver great action week after week and it kicks off in great fashion this coming Saturday. That's in part due to a bout we've been looking forward to for a little over a year now. That's a match up between unified WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight world champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6) and mandatory challenger Ryosuke Iwasa (23-7, 17), who also enters as the "interim" IBF champion.
The bout will see two of the best 122lb fighters clash in what is a genuine excellent match up, and it's one that should have fans from all over the globe tuning in. That's not just because of the match up it's self, which is genuinely brilliant, but because of what it means for the division in general. The winner will be in the mix for bouts against the likes of Luis Nery, Stephen Fulton, Ronnie Riose, Brandon Figueroa and Carlos Castro, among many, many others.
Of the two men the more impressive has been 26 year old Uzbek Akhmadaliev, known as "MJ". He is, after just 8 fights, a unified champion and was a former standout amateur who has set his sights high and raced away to the top, whilst becoming one of the main faces at the forefront of Uzbek boxing. He is a fighter who has looked to prove a point every step of the way during his boxing career and has already proven himself as a top level fighter. In just 8 bouts!
Before turning professional Akhmadaliev had reportedly had over 300 amateur bouts, winning the vast majority. He had won medals at the World Amateur Championships, Olympics, Asian Championships and World Youth Championships, and had been one of the standout fights on the amateur scene. He had, however, got a reputation for being the bridesmaid and not the bride, falling short in the business end of competitions. As a professional however he has used that amateur experience and the skills he learned in the unpaid ranks to challenge himself and make a name for himself.
In just 8 bouts Akhmadaliev has already beaten the likes of Isaaz Zarate, Carlos Carlson and most notably Daniel Roman, who he beat in January 2020 for the unified titles. He has proven he can box, punch, brawl, and fight at a high tempo for 12 rounds. He has proven more in just 8 bouts, adding up to a total of 40 professional rounds, than many fights do in a career. We'll admit we thought the step up to facing Roman was too soon, but he proved us wrong and it's going to be very hard to bet against him in the future given how he performed there.
Although he is hugely impressive there are still some questions to ask of Akhmadaliev. He has impressed with his ability to box or fight, and he has shown a good chin, great work rate and highly impressive stamina, though we do wonder what happens when he's forced to chase a bout, and it'll be interesting to see what happens when he's cut, or in genuine trouble. If we ever see him in real trouble. We also wonder what he's like against a big puncher, and Iwasa does have power, as well as what he's like against a dangerous south, with his previous southpaw opponents being relatively limited. So far however he has impressed fight after fight and shown the ambition and drive that has already made us huge fans of his.
Ryosuke Iwasa is a 31 year old veteran of the professional ranks, with 30 professional bouts to his name, and over 60 amateur bouts. He is already a former world champion and a man who was long tipped to be a star in Japan, though has failed to reach the heights expected of him when he turned professional. Despite not being the fighter many hoped he would be he has managed a very respectable career and is certainly not a fighter who has failed in the sport. He has, however, been inconsistent. When he's on point he looks fantastic, but there are a number of underwhelming performance during his career as well.
For Japanese fans Iwasa made his name, originally, on the amateur stage where he went 60-6 (42) and picked up the High School Triple crown. This saw him turning professional with high expectations on his shoulders. Under the guidance of former world champion Celes Kobayashi he was moved quickly and at the end of 2010 he had secured a Japanese title fight as part of the Champion Carnival, by winning the Strongest Korakuen and becoming the MVP. Sadly for him his Japanese title fight, in 2011, came against a then rising Shinsuke Yamanaka, with Iwasa losing a 10th round TKO to Yamanaka in a sensational bout. Aged 21 at the time that was a learning experience and he would reel off a string of wins, taking the Japanese and OPBF titles before getting his first world title fight, and losing in 6 rounds, in England, to Lee Haksins in 2016.
The loss to Haskins was Iwasa final bout at Bantamweight before moving up in weight, and finding his groove once again. Just over 2 years after the defeat to Haskins we saw Iwasa have his career defining win, as he battered Yukinori Oguni in 6 rounds to win the IBF Super Bantamweight title. It was a red hot performance from Iwasa who looked sensational. Sadly though he failed to build on that win, scoring an underwhelming decision to retain his title against Ernesto Saulong and failing to really get to grips with TJ Doheny, who dethroned him in 2018. Since his title loss Iwasa has looked good, beating Cesar Juarez by technical decision and then dismantling former WBO Bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales in 2019, to win the IBF "interim" title.
In the ring Iwasa really does blow hot and cold, and he always has. He looked poor in his second fight, Edgar Allende, and again later in his career against Richard Pumicpic, Ernesto Saulong and TJ Doheny. When he's looked good however, he has looked sensational, and we saw that against Oguni and Tapales. In the ring he's a southpaws who fights as a boxer-puncher. His power is genuinely spiteful at this level, and technically he's very solid. Sadly though he often fights in a one paced fashion, struggles to go through the gears, and has struggled with southpaws through his career, with all 3 losses coming to lefties.
Of the two men we would suggest that Iwasa is the biggest puncher, at least a single punch basis, he's also the taller, longer man and if he can establish his jab he does have a chance of getting on top of the bout early on. His team have stated their game plan is to stop Akhamadliev from getting into his rhythm and we suspect that is the key to beating the Uzbek.
Sadly for Iwasa however he is the less versatile of the two fighters. He's an excellent boxer-puncher, but he's not the most creative fighter, he's not a great inside fighter and he's got slow feet. They are all things that Akhmadaliev will use against him. The Uzbek is a much, much more rounded in ring competitor. That is, we suspect, going to be the difference making.
We suspect Iwasa will come out sharp, looking to land clean straight shots and getting his range, but as the rounds go on Akhmadaliev will close the distance, get inside and begin to grind away at Iwasa. The difference in speed will be key and by the end of round 12 Akhmadaliev will have done more than enough to deserve the decision.
We expect the champion to retain, but he will have to work for it, and this will not be an easy day at the office for the talented Uzbek.
Prediction - Akhmadaliev UD12
Over the last few years we have seen more and more Japanese fighters making their mark on the international scene. This has been, in part, due to the ease with which we can now watch Japanese fighters in action. Gone are the days of Key Hole TV and in are days of HD streaming and VOD services like Boxing Raise, which have allowed us to follow Japanese fighters from their early bouts right through to the point where they are world champions.
One such fighter has been Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9), who had much of his early career shown on Boxing Raise before becoming a staple on TV broadcasts, thanks to Watanabe's relationship with TBS. He is now set to take the next step in his professional career, following the likes of Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka, and make his US debut. He does that this coming weekend when he defends his WBA "super" and Ring Magazine Light Flyweight titles against Mexican youngster Axel Aragon Vega (14-3-1, 8), in what should be a break out bout for the exciting Japanese fighter in front of a new audience on DAZN.
For those who have followed Kyoguchi over the year they'll know what to expect from the cheeky looking Japanese fighter. The 27 year old turned professional in 2016, following his brother Ryuto Kyoguchi to the professional ranks, and he raced through the rankings. Within a year of his debut Hiroto had already won the OPBF Minimumweight, the Asian equivalent to the European (EBU) title, and had looked like a mini-Mike Tyson with an aggressive, pressure fighter style that was based around his pressure and combinations. Just 5 months later he claimed his first world title, beating Jose Argumedo for the IBF Minimumweight belt. His reign was a short one, with only two defense, though they did include a notable TKO win over Carlos Buitrago who is still a relevant contender and recently gave Elwin Soto a competitive bout in 2020.
In 2018 Kyoguchi became a 2-weight champion, stopping Hekkie Budler in Macau for the WBA Light Flyweight "super" title, which he has defended twice, beating both Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart and Tetsuya Hisada by clear, though hard fought, unanimous decision. The latets of those defenses came in October 2019 and he has been out of the ring ever since. He was supposed to defend his title last year, though had two bouts fall through. The first of those was in May, which was cancelled due to Covid19 putting a freeze on boxing, and the other was in November, when Kyoguchi himself tested positive for Covid19 cancelling the bout at the 11th hour.
Early in his career Kyoguchi did look a really destructive force. He was a pressure fighter with a hyper aggressive style, a focus on pressure, combination punching and getting close, unleashing his power shots and breaking people down in eye catching, fan friendly fashion. The move to Light Flyweight has seen him face tougher, bigger, stronger men who haven't wilted under his pressure like his early opponents, but he is still a pressure fighter at heart. We have seen him show some development and patience, and develop his boxing skills, but at his best he is still a front foot pressure fighter, who cuts the ring off well, and loves to get to work up close. It's his work in the pocket that is his best and his body shots are brutal. Unlike some pressure fighters out there he set them up properly, coming forward behind a tight guard, good footwork and a stiff, hurtful, jab. He also starts fast with his pressure, rather than build it through the fight, draining opponents mentally from the first bell.
In the opposite corner to Kyoguchi will be 20 year old challenger Axel Aragon Vega, a Mexican fighter who debuted in 2016 and has built himself a solid looking record, but on which lacks in substance. His first 10 wins all came against fighters with little experience, or losing records, and his first bout of any note was actually a loss, in 2017 to Juan Toscano. He did bounce back from that, with 8 straight wins, but suffered back to back set backs, with a draw to Edvin Ramirez Contreras and loss to Wilfredo Mendez. He bounced back again, with 3 low key wins, before a rematch with Mendez, for the WBO Minimumweight title, saw Vega suffer his third loss, this time by split technical decision. Since that loss he has fought once, beating veteran Saul Juarez in August 2020.
In the ring Vega is a tiny fighter, standing at around 5', but he's also a quick, skilled and tough one. Against Saul Juarez he looked sharp with his punches, he looked light on his feet and drew mistakes from Juarez which he countered. Sadly however that botu really doesn't tell us too much given how past his best Juarez looked, and whilst it's easy to be impressed by Vega it does need to be noted that Juarez looked beyond shot with his movement. To credit to Vega he did look smooth, he knew his way around the ring and has got nice hand speed. Sadly other footage of Vega isn't of the best quality, though it is clear he's a talented fighter and really does have plenty of skills.
Whilst we think Vega is a very talented fighter he is also a very small fighter, he's a light puncher and he looks to be a natural Minimumweight who will be taking on a strong Light Flyweight here. It seems unlikely he will have the physicality to get Kyoguchi's respect and will need to burn a lot of energy to stay at a safe distance against the champion. A champion who is known as a strong, pressure fighter with good footwork and solid body shots.
If we were in charge of Kyoguchi, Vega is the type of fighter we would have loved to have matched him with on his US debut. He looks made to order. We suspect Vega will have some success in the early rounds, he'll use his speed well, box well, but come under intense and incessant pressure and by round 4 or 5 the pressure and body shots of Kyoguchi will be taking their toll. A stoppage will then come, eventually, from Vega just simply being ground down and broken up.
Prediction - Kyoguchi TKO8
By Troy Parslow
Boxing has seen it’s share of mercurial talent—fighters whose blowing hot and cold is often independent of their brilliant skill or opposition. This fickle sport rewards their drama, but not without frustration.
In the context of current fighters, I think of Kosei Tanaka’s silver bullet left hook to body bailing him out in the fights he couldn’t help himself, and I think of one it’s victims: Vic Saludar.
Next week, one half of the impossible Saludar clan’s two championship contenders, Vic, 20-4 (11), takes on obscure Robert Paradero, 18-0 (12), in an all-Filipino clash for a secondary WBA ‘regular’ minimumweight title. Months in the making, this Elorde promotion will take place outdoors at the Binan football stadium on February 20th.
Vic, born Victorio Saludar, in Polomolok, is perhaps conspicuous by his absence amongst reigning minimumweight champions. He’s long since had the ability, and in 2019 he had the belt (WBO). Even then it had taken him until his second attempt to realise; having built a lead, with the help of a knockdown, challenging Kosei Tanaka earlier in the same WBO lineage, before the aforementioned falling victim to a left hand solution. There’s no shame in succumbing to a rare dynamism, of course, but the same inconsistencies would follow Saludar in his career. If he wasn’t already rebuilding, he would go on to be shocked by the warring Toto Landero a year later, dropping a ten round split decision.
In 2018, having recovered from shock defeat with two wins over Mike Kinaadman and a second over Lito Dante, Saludar won WBO glory at the second time of asking. Travelling away to Japan to strip underrated Ryuya Yamanaka of his title in a well-contested fight, and returning to successfully defend against talented Masataka Taniguchi, just as it looked for all the world that Saludar could pass championship muster, his second defence saw him so desperately drop his belt to inexperienced Puerto Rican Wilfredo Mendez. Not a favourable style match up, or one that covered either of them in particular glory, more disappointing was Saludar’s lack of urgency or worse yet, answers.
Just in his last fight (December 2019), despite going on to win by stoppage, Saludar was dropped by journeyman Mike Kinaadman for the first time in three meetings. Now 30, if he is to put it to rights and redefine his career, he has to start against Robert Paradero.
If Paradero, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, is equally conspicuous, it would in his absence of meaningful fights. Still early in his career, just 24 years old, it’s not for us to decide how he builds, but, naturally, there’s the question of his ability to contend. Of his 18 wins, the one of most significance came in his last fight, in which he stopped Jonathon Almacen in the first round. Fine form, if lacking in real substance for it’s early finish. I don’t think anyone would argue that with Almacen and seventeen much of a muchness journeymen to his name, ‘Inggo’ isn’t charitably ranked. But, for now, it won’t matter to him: his competition has afforded him the opportunity, and there’s nothing immaterial about this next step up.
In the ring, one might describe Paradero’s fighter as a livewire. That is to say, although he’s erratic and not technically sound, he’s elastic and busy. His movement has looked excessive on occasion, and much of his defence relies on reflexes: reacting in time to slip punches he’s seen coming or bounce out of range. He is improving here though, and in the short time against Almacen he was moving his head more as he circled. I think Paradero looks at his best here, circling, raiding and bouncing back out at a new angle. Raiding like this gets the most out of his in and out footwork and leaping attacks, without exposing him for as long in the pocket. He can mix it up close with dedicated body punching and the use of throwaway punches to engineer the space, but his balance is poor and his loose punching form and lack of proactive defence can leave him wide open.
By contrast, Saludar is a tight, neat puncher. He’s more balanced than Paradero, more proactive and in turn, a lot more comfortable moving in the pocket and punching off of sidesteps and pivots. He’s a bona fide puncher, but in the shape of a very capable boxer, occupying his opponents guard to take an angle to exit the pocket, step around them or circle, he doesn’t always look for opportunities to set his feet and punch enough. Regardless, a dexterous right hand and sensitivity for distance and timing keep him dangerous when any opponent is stepping to him.
Saludar has tended to looked comfortable enough all the time he’s been allowed the freedom to step in and out of range at his own discretion—and even then he can get complacent—but without that same autonomy, he’s less fluid. Against Wilfredo Mendez, for example, with the onus on him to pressure, he was exposed for his inability to cut off the ring and he couldn’t get anything going.
Granted, it’s a fight largely of unknowns, namely the form of Saludar and Paradero’s ability to step up, but it’s not one I’d want to back against a former champions relative cunning. I do think, if he approaches it maturely and Saludar obliges him, Paradero can enjoy success baiting, circling and raiding when Saludar picks his feet up. Ultimately, though, he’s not better than Saludar at any one thing, and I doubt he has the consistency himself, at this stage, to gameplan to win this fight raiding off the back foot. He leaves himself exposed in transition too often and he hasn’t had the fights to prove it won’t be a problem.
Saludar is a heavy favourite. But he’s also a Saludar, and thereby no sure thing.
The machinations of professional boxing will never cease to amaze us, and this coming Friday is a great example how much of a mess boxing is. On Friday we'll see 37 year old Kazakh Cruiserweight Beibut Shumenov (18-2, 12) defending his WBA Crusierweight title against unknown American contender Raphael Murphy (14-1, 11) a 35 year old with no wins of note. At all.
That is despite Shumenov being ordered to make a mandatory defense against the much more dangerous Ryad Merhy, and having not been stripped, somehow, despite not fighting since 2018.
Rather than ranting and raving about what an hilarious joke the WBA is, or how Don King is still part of this sport and still promoting events, lets actually take a look at this rather meaningless "world" title bout. A title bout that has so little significance and importance that we'll be finding something else to do rather than forking out for the PPV that Don King is trying to charge for it.
In one corner, as mentioned, will be the 37 year old Shumenov. Surprisingly Shumenov is the only 2-weight Kazakh world champion, though his relationship with the WBA has been a very, very peculiar one, to say the least. He got his first world title fight in 2009, and lost, in Kazakhstan, to the then WBA Light Heavyweight champion Gabriel Campillo. Despite losing he got an immediate rematch, and won the title with one of the most egregious decisions in recent memory. As the WBA Light Heavyweight champion Shumenov made 5 defenses, though scored only a single win of relevance, before losing in a unification bout against Bernard Hopkins. After losing to Hopkins, in 2014, he moved up win weight winning the WBA "interim" Cruiserweight title, in 2015, and winning the regular title in 2016. Then he vanished from the ring for 2 years, had problems with his eyes, before returning and winning the regular title, for the second time in 2018. This will be his first defense of that second reign.
In his prime Shumenov was a decent fighter. He was a heavy handed and aggressive fighter, with a decent chin, good work rate and an exciting style. Technically he was flawed, he could be out boxed, and out fought, and he wasn't the quickest, but he was helped by some of the most hilarious cards in history, including 1 judge that some how saw him beating Hopkins.
At 37 and with just 1 fight in the last 4 years however, we really do wonder what is left of Shumenov and what ambition does he have left?
Sadly it's unlikely we'll really find out what Shumenov still has to offer the sport as he goes up against a challenger that somehow the WBA have managed to rank in their top 15, despite him having no wins of note, and being just a few fights removed from being stopped by novice Hugo Trujillo. If you recognise Trujillo's name that'll likely be because he was the debut opponent of Bakhodir Jalolov in 2018, and Jalolov stopped him in 3 rounds. Since that loss Murphy has scored 3 wins over hapless opponents.
Sadly finding quality, recent, footage of Murphy is tricky, though what is available leaves us with more questions than answers. For example his loss against Hugo Trujillo, who looked very much out of shape, made it seem like Murphy had next to no defensive skills, being caught time and time again by hooks from Trujillo, no stamina and pushed almost every punch he threw. On the inside he had no idea what to do and looked incredibly poor. In some of his wins opponents look like they have no idea what they were doing in the ring.
Sadly this farce of a bout really is a clear case of the WBA walking to the rhythm of Don King. It's complete farce of a bout. Murphy shouldn't be anywhere close to a world title fight, even a WBA "regular" title bout. Then again Shumenov shouldn't be anywhere close to a world title.
Sadly this a case of "won't fight", Shumenov, Vs "can't fight", Murphy. With that said, if Shumenov is even 10% of the fighter he once was, which was never a great fighter, he should stop Murphy after shaking some ring rust....and that's the bout doesn't fall through at the 11th hour.
For those wondering, we really wouldn't be surprised if this bout magically vanishes. Either way the winner will do all they can to avoid Merhy, as he would almost certainly beat the pair, on the same night.
If this does go ahead, this is pathetic from the WBA for sanctioning the bout, disgusting from Don King for putting it on and shameful for all those involved.
Also if you're for this on PPV, we're predicting buyers remorse and shame!
Prediction - TKO4 Shumenov (if the fight even takes place!)
Note - As we write this the bout isn't currently listed by the WBA on their schedule, but it is still being promoted by King on is website. There is a chance the WBA put the kibosh on the bout, but as they haven't yet it could well be that they are complicit in this buffoonery, and that would not be a surprise at all.
On November 3rd we'll see unbeaten men clash at the INTEX in Osaka, as WBA Light Flyweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) takes on Thai challenger Thanongsak Simsri (14-0, 12). For Kyoguchi this will be his second defense of the title, whilst the unsung Thai challenger will be getting his first shot at world honours in a massive step up. The bout will be the first male world title fight held in Japan since boxing restarted in the country back in the summer and is a genuinely huge bout for Asia during this current time.
Whilst it's a huge fight the real question is whether it will be a good one, and who will win. With that in mind lets have a look at what to expect when the "Dynamite Boy" takes on "Srisaket II".
Aged 26, and with his 27th birthday just a few weeks away, Hiroto Kyoguchi is one of the leading faces in Japanese boxing. The youngster turned professional in 2016, following a solid amateur career, and was raced through the professional ranks at an alarming pace. Just 10 months after his debut he took the OPBF Minimumweight title and just 5 months later he added the IBF world title to his collection, setting a Japanese record for the shortest time take from debut to win a world title. After a string of defenses of that IBF title he moved up in weight and quickly won the WBA "super" and Ring Magazine title at 108lbs.
In his early bouts Kyoguchi looked like a mini-Mike Tyson, he was all about pressure, free flowing combinations and ripping opponents apart in brutal fashion. As he's stepped up his level of competition we have seen that Tyson-Esque style adapt, and what we now see with Kyoguchi is a hard hitting boxer-puncher, with an aggressive mentality. The extreme, intense pressure is seen in glimpses, but it's a lot less than it used to be, with opponents standing up to his power and forcing him to rely more on boxing than his power. Having that pressure style in his locker is, however, a valuable asset and can turn the tide, or finish off an opponent, and he really is at his best working in the pocket.
With 6 world title bouts, across 2 divisions, it's fair to describe Kyoguchi as a seasoned campaigner, despite only having 14 career bouts. Amazinly Thanongsak Simsri has also just had 14 bouts as a professional, but his career is very, very different to that of Kyoguchi.
Simsri debuted in 2018, in obscurity buried deep on a card in Samut Prakan, at the age of 18. He would score 6 quick wins to begin his career, all against Thai novices, before getting the chance to feature on a card in Osaka, in April 2019. It was on that card that he really made fans sit up and take note, stopping Ricardo Sueno in 66 seconds. That was the point where Japanese promoter Green Tsuda seemed to get on board with Simsri's rise, and since then they have helped guide his career, using their resources and connections to help develop the Thai youngster. A couple of wins in Thailand followed before he was back in Japan to have his second bout on Japanese soil.
The development was fast and intense with Simsri some how fitting in a total of 8 bouts in 2019, including a very notable one in December against Filipino Christian Bacolod. At the time Bacolod was world ranked, and unbeaten and Simsri managed to do enough to out point the talented Pinoy.
Dubbed "Srisaket II" by the Thai press it should be little surprise to learn that Simsri is a heavy handed fighter, with an aggressive mentality, and impressive physical strength. He is however more of a boxer-puncher than a pressure fighter, like Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. When fighting on the inside he is a very nasty body puncher, nd is very comfortable there, but he does look to set things up at mid range, before working up close. Rather than Srisaket, who is very much of an intense stalker. Sadly for Simsri he lacks the truly brutal power of Srisaket, but every shot of his is heavy, thudding, hurtful and spiteful. He's a legitimate danger man, but appears to be someone who still has a lot of work to do on his defense, timing and understanding of distance.
Before we make a prediction on the outcome we need to state the obvious. Stylistically this should be a truly amazing bout. Both guys can box or fight, and both do their best work in the pocket. We expect to see both men looking to fight off their jabs early on, getting a feel for each other in the first few rounds, before taking this up close and turning on the gas to give us something truly sensation.
Sadly for Simsri we do feel this bout might be coming a bit too early for him. We see him as a 20 year old prospect, who has gotten a world title fight due to circumstances, rather than merit. We expect him to be full of gusto, confidence and no fear, but his lack of higher level experience, and immaturity will be a problem and he will be made to look like a boy against a man.
We are expecting a brilliant fight for 4 or 5 rounds, but then we expect the stiff shots from Kyoguchi, and the work on the inside, to grind down the Thai. We suspect in round 7 or 8 his corner will throw in the towel and save the tired youngster for another day.
Prediction - TKO8 Kyoguchi.
On October 31st we'll see Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16) return to the ring for what is likely to be his only bout of 2020. The WBA "super" and IBF Bantamweight champion will be defending his straps against Australian challenger Jason Moloney (21-1, 18) in what will be Inoue's Las Vegas debut. The bout was put on due to the less than ideal situation we've seen the world in in 2020, though is certainly not a terrible bout, even if it wasn't the bout we all wanted to see at the start of the year.
Earlier in the year we had hoped to see Inoue defending his titles against WBO champion John Riel Casimero, in what would have been a triple title unification bout. That bout was ear marked for April, though when the world was essentially frozen whilst countries tried to cope with the ongoing global situation, the bout was postponed, and postponed, and postponed, and eventually cancelled. Casimero went his own way, defending his title against Duke Micah back in September, and as a result Inoue was allowed to go his own way, and landed a fight with the highly ranked Moloney.
Amazingly the two men were actually very, very close to fight in 2019. That's when both men were part of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) and were on the same side of the draw. On October 7th 2018 Inoue blasted out Juan Carlos Payano in one of the most eye catching WBSS performances. His next round was against the winner of Jason Moloney Vs Emmanuel Rodriguez, with Rodriguez winning a split decision. We were literally one judge away from seeing these two men clash last year.
Regardless we're here now, and we're about to see them fight, so lets take a look at the men and the way we expect it to go.
The 27 year old Inoue is the jewel in the crown of Japanese boxing. Since turning professional in 2012 he has been on the fast track to the top. In just his third bout he beat the highly regarded Yuki Sano, claimed the Japanese Light Flyweight title in his 4th bout, the OPBF title in his fifth bout and his first world title in his 6th. All of that came in the space of just 18 months. From there on he has blossomed into a star of boxing, drawing the attention of fans around the globe and claiming notable scalp, after notable scalp. In just 19 bouts he has already beaten not just Taguchi but Adrian Hernandez, Omar Andres Narvaez, Kohei Kono, Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Nonito Donaire. Across those 19 fights only Donaire has really had success again Inoue, who has long been dubbed the "Monster".
In the ring Inoue is a fantastic boxer-puncher. He's naturally heavy handed, and his power has carried up from Light Flyweight to Bantamweight with no issues, he's a clean puncher, with incredible handspeed, timing, combinations and footwork. Whilst many top fighters in the sport are extremely good defensively Inoue is an offensive machine, and despite not always being the biggest man in the ring, he is usually the stronger man, and the one dictating the bout, usually from the center of the ring. Although an offensive machine Inoue is a solid defensive fighter, though he's not often had to show that side of what he can do in the ring due to his imposing offensive ability.
Despite being a fantastic fighter there are a bunch of question marks hanging over Inoue's head. Firstly whether or not he's 100% fit for this bout? After all the bout against Donaire resulted in a very nasty eye injury. Second is he going to be rusty after almost a year out? Or count he even be over-trained? After a training camp for a bout with Casimero in April as well as a training camp for this bout
It's fair to say Inoue is the very clear favourite heading in to the bout, but he's certainly not the only man who will be in the ring as Jason Moloney will be there as the hungry under-dog.
The Australian challenger is a 29 year old who debuted in 2014, after being a successful amateur, and, along with brother Andrew, was tipped for major success in the professional ranks. For many years Moloney was busy getting professional experience against regional level fighters, running up numerous wins against Filipino fighters. In 2018 he finally stepped up and easily stopped former world champion Immanuel Naidjala, before scoring a TKO win against former Inoue opponent Kohei Kono. His momentum was growing and he was 17-0 (14) when he entered the WBSS.
Sadly for Moloney his unbeaten record would go in October 2018 when he lost the aforementioned split decision to Emmanuel Rodriguez, who was the then IBF champion. This was a very competitive loss, and a great showing by Moloney, who enhanced his reputation in defeat. He had gone from being an unknown outside of the Asia Pacific scene to a man regarded as a legitimate world class Bantamweight.
Following the loss to Rodriguez we've seen Moloney pick up 4 wins, all by stoppage. They included a win this past June against Leonardo Baez in what was Moloney's Las Vegas debut, and was partly responsible for allowing this bout to take place.
In the ring Moloney is a really, really good boxer. He's got solid power, though not the destructive power of Inoue, he's a very nice mover, very fluid with his foot and hand speed, and a fantastic combination puncher. Every show he throws looks stinging and he's happy to let them go on the inside or the outside. He's also very good at getting in, letting shots go, and getting out. On a punch for punch basis he's less offensively impressive than Inoue, but is still a very good boxer, who has rebuilt brilliantly following his loss to Rodriguez.
As with Inoue there are questions over Moloney. For example what's his chin really like? This is the first time he's taken on a world class puncher, so can he handle it? Will he be able to handle such a big occasion? Has he got a plan B, C and D? As he'll need them against a man like Inoue.
We've seen some fan try to downplay this fight. We'll be honest, we would have preferred the Inoue Vs Casimero bout, of course we would. However Moloney is a world class fighter, he's a better boxer than Casimero, though a much less dangerous puncher and a less experienced fighter. Moloney has got the ability to test Inoue, push Inoue and really ask questions of the "Monster", especially if Inoue is rusty or feeling the effects of last year's war with Donaire.
We expect quite a slow start, with Inoue taking center ring and Moloney showing a lot of caution to Inoue's power. A lot of respect from both. By round 2 or 3 we would expect Inoue to be putting his foot on the gas, pressing more, and cutting the distance. When that happens his brutal body shots will kick in, and we'll see Inoue begin to grind down Moloney.
We would be surprised if that was where Moloney moved to plan B, as mentioned earlier he'll need it. It'll need to be a really good plan B however, and we're not sure it'll be good enough. He'll need to cope with Inoue's power and pressure. Sadly we see that power and pressure, eventually causing cracks, and those cracks widening, until Inoue forces a stoppage somewhere in the middle of the bout.
Prediction - TKO6 Inoue
After a few weeks low level action for Asian fighters this coming Saturday sees things step up in a big way with 3 world title bouts taking place on the same day, including a female world title fight in Japan and a Bantamweight world title fight in the US. Of those title bouts the most interesting comes from the UK as unified Light Welterweight champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12) defends his WBA and IBF titles against little known Thai challenger Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13), also known as Apinunm Khongsong.
On paper this is really well matched between two men with almost identical numbers on their record. In reality however the bout is widely regarded as a mismatch with the 29 year old champion being regarded as a very clear favourite, and the Thai challenger being an almost unknown, despite entering as the IBF mandatory title challenger. Despite that this is certainly not a gimme and could be a very interesting bout, at least for a few rounds.
The talented Josh Taylor has been a rare fast-tracked British fighter, who knew he was good, believed in himself and avoided the often tedious record padding that many British fighters have. In just his 11th bout he stopped former world champion Miguel Vazquez, becoming the first man to stop the tricky Mexican. Less than a year after being Vazquez he had notched a solid win over Viktor Postol and began his campaign in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS), stopping Ryan Martin. By the end of 2019 he had managed to win the WBSS as well as unifying the IBF and WBA titles and take the unbeaten records of Ivan Baranchyk and Regis Prograis, build his reputation massively.
In the ring Taylor can box, brawl, bring and fight on the inside, despite what Andre Ward may think. He can sometimes be too willing to engage on an inside war, when sometimes he would fair better at mid-range. He's a very talented boxer, has solid hand speed, spiteful power, great work rate, good stamina, impressive physical strength and proved his toughness in a war with Prograis last time out. The real question with Taylor is how many hard battles does he had in him, and he's already had a few, and whether out of the ring issues will become a bigger issue than they have so far. Those out of the ring issues include being arrested in December and splitting with his long term trainer in January.
At 24 years old the Thai challenger is a youngster and is very much a man who has gotten his shot due to a single big win in an eliminator, rather than a string of strong wins. After turning professional in 2016 he was matched relatively softly, with his best wins coming over Adam Diu Abdulhamid and Sonny Katiandagho. Having won 14 in a row the Thai finally stepped up in 2019 and shone as he knocked out the teak tough Akihiro Kondo in an IBF world title eliminator, to earn this shot. That was a result that saw many in Asia sit up and take note of the Thai, especially given Kondo's notorious tough chin that had seen him last 12 rounds with the heavy handed Sergey Lipinets.
Downua has not fought anything close to the level of competition that Josh Taylor has fought to, though he has passed the eye test, for the most part. He's a big, rangy guy at the weight, who's listed at 5'10" though often looks bigger. He looks very relaxed in the ring and like a man with a lot more experience than his record suggests. His hand speed is relatively solid and he does like using straight punches at range, with his jab being one of his key weapons and he does have nice foot speed and movement. Sadly he can be seen dropping his hands and backing up in straight lines at times. Offensively he looks good, both at range and up close, with his KO of Kondo coming from an uppercut, but he does make a lot of mistakes defensively. Mistakes he has been able to get away with due to the low level of competition he's been in with.
We do see Downua posing some questions of Taylor, especially given Taylor's change in trainer, and likely a change in style. For 3 or 4 rounds the length, movement and jab of Downua will make things frustrating for the Scottish star. When Taylor finds his timing however we suspect Taylor will put his foot on the gas and begin to break down the Thai and score a stoppage over the Thai in the second half of the fight.
Interestingly this is likely to be one of Taylor's last fights at 140lbs with talk being that he will seek a 4 title unification next year and then potentially move up in weight, to join the ranks at Welterweight.
Prediction - TKO8 Taylor
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
Back in September we had expected to turn our attention to Madison Square Garden Theater for an excellent Super Bantamweight world title bout, pitting unified champion Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 19) against mandatory challenger Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6). Sadly in the build up the champion was injured and the bout was forced to be delayed, and rescheduled. With it being eventually pushed back to late January. Despite the delay we are now on course for the brilliant looking match up.
The 29 year old champion, who has unified the WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight titles will be making his first defense of the IBF belt and his fifth defense of the WBA crown, the first as the super champion. For Akhmadaliev, who is mandatory for the WBA title, the bout will be his first at world level as he looks to join a select few to win a world title in just his 8th professional bout.
Roman has become one of the sports most interesting champions. He won the title in 2017, stopping Shun Kubo, and announcing himself on the world stage. Prior to that win he had been knocking on the door, with wins over the likes of Adam Lopez, Christopher Martin and Christian Esquivel though it's been since winning the title that he has really impressed. After winning the belt in Japan, stopping Kubo, he returned and beat Ryo Matsumoto before beating Mosies Flores and Gavin McDonnell. Those wins built momentum, and that momentum lead to a unification bout with the then IBF champion TJ Doheny this past April. That bout was something special, with Roman dropping Doheny twice, but having the Irish-Australian warrior coming back at him with real drive and vigour. Over 12 rounds Roman did enough to win the bout and unify the belts.
After 2 losses in his first 11 bouts Roman could have been written off, though he has battled back hard, winning 19 in a row, unifying titles, taking chances and becoming the star of Thompson Boxing. The way he has turned his career around has been amazing and the fact he's travelled to Japan for 2 of those wins, and has taken 5 unbeaten records in his last 7 fights shows he isn't scared of a challenge. What Roman does really well is work. His output is excellent, he's technically solid with his shots, and despite throwing a lot he doesn't waste many. They aren't always the sharpest, or the hardest, but they are solid shots, and his engine is excellent. He combines that energy with a really gritty toughness, and although he can be hurt he grits it out, recovers quickly and comes back. If a fighter hurts him it really does seem like they should go all out to take him down, rather than give him a chance to clear the cobwebs.
Although Roman was a good amateur, which is something we don't hear much about strangely, Akhmadaliev was a sensational amateur. The Uzbek was a World Amateur Champion silver medal winner, an Olympic bronze medal winner a multi-time medal winner on the Asian and Uzbek scenes and recorded around 300 amateur wins. It's that amateur foundation that has seen him being fast-tracked through the professional ranks. In just his 4th professional contest he took on the then 15-6 Ramon Contreras for the WBA Inter-Continental title, then defended it against the world ranked IsaacZarate, to earn the mandatory position towards the end of last year. By that point he had been a professional for around 8 months! To tick over earlier this year he destroyed former world title challenger Carlos Carlson in 3 rounds.
Although a stellar amateur Akhmadaliev doesn't always fight like an amateur, in fact from the off he had a more professional style, with an aggressive mentality and almost a seek and destroy gameplan. He is constantly on the front foot, looking to break opponents down and although a touch reckless he is smart with his aggression.He's a fighter who seems to truly believe he's special, and not just because his team tell him he is. For a Super Bantamweight he's a solid puncher, he's exciting, but he is stepping up massively, from the likes of Isaac Zarate to Daniel Roman.
We'd love to see Akhmadaliev win here, setting his stall out as one of the kings of the Super Bantamweight divisions this quickly after his debut, and at just 25 years old. Sadly however we do feel it's too much too soon, and his lack of experience over the longer distance will be an issue. He's certainly has a chance against Roman, and if he's as good as he believes it's a really good chance, but we suspect he comes up short here against a man who remains one of boxing's most under-rated world champions. Worst yet for the Uzbek, we see him being ground down by Roman's pressure in the later stages, suffering a late TKO loss in a painful and gruelling defeat
Prediction- TKO11 Roman
On December 23rd Japan's Ryota Murata (15-2, 12) will look to make his first defense of the WBA Middleweight title, as he takes on hard hitting Canadian foe Steven Butler (28-1-1, 24). The bout will be the main event of a triple header in Yokohama and is expected to draw in an immense TV audience in Japan, as well as a solid audience from external markets, with the bout being shown around the world. For Murata the bout is a chance to claim a notable win and move towards some huge bouts in 2020, with talk of potential bouts against the likes of Saul Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford in the near future. As for Butler the bout is a huge opportunity to become a star, and go from contender to champion.
Of the two men it's Murata who is the star. What many don't realise is just how much of a star he is in Japan. He is probably the only man with a bigger fan base in the country than Naoya Inoue. We all know Inoue is a star, and the fact Murata matches him shows what a draw he is. He's a former amateur standout, who famously won a gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 and also won a silver medal at the World Amateur Championships in 2011. He is the first Japanese fighter to go from winning Olimpic gold to winning a world title as a professional, and he is also only the second ever Japanese fighter to win a world title at Middleweight, following Shinji Takehara.
For those who haven't haven't seen much of Murata, he is technically quite basic. He's a a come forward pressure fighter who marches forward behind a tight guard, with a very powerful jab and works well on the inside. At times however he is inconsistent. His 2018 loss to Rob Brant saw him slowly following Brant around the ring, never getting out of second gear, never letting his hands go with any consistency and never fully committing to his strengths. He tried to box the boxer, and he made to look foolish. In their rematch however he used his jab, his strength and his power and battered Brant to the point the referee needed to step in. It was only a glimpse of what Murata can do, but it did show that Murata can look good when he's aggressive. He takes a shot well, he's strong, he's powerful and when he fights to his potential he's really tough to beat. It's just a shame we rarely see him fighting at his best. At 33 years old he now needs to fight to his potential, as any slip is probably going to kill any hope of getting a super fight.
At 24 years old Butler is a rising youngster, with a power punching style and strong promotional backing. Butler likes to fight on the outside, using his freakishly long arms and reach to keep the bout at range. Although he's not actually a big Middleweight he does look like a rangy Middleweight, though that may be exaggerated by the fact some of his opponents have been small, making him look bigger than he is. One thing that is really obvious from watching him, no matter who he was fighting, was the fact that whilst he is heavy handed his shots don't look particularly crisp. His power is more thudding, dead heavy hands, rather than explosive or elastic power. He often looks pushing his shots a touch. More worrying than his punching technique is the fact he really is open when he fires off shots. A top class fighter will counter him and time him, as Vitalii Kopylenko did earlier this year. As well as his openness he has also been hurt to the body, and Kopylenko actually dropped him with a body shot.
Despite the flaws with Butler he and his team are confident. They travelled to Japan more than 2 weeks before the fight, and Butler has certainly had time to acclimatise to the Japanese conditions, the change in time zone, and the weather. What that won't help with is the atmosphere, and here he is very much going into the dragons den. Whilst Japanese fans are typically respectful to visitors, they are still very behind their local hero's and they will be there cheering on Murata. For Butler to not have the crowd support could be an issue. Especially when he's having to fight off the pressure of Murata, who will be looking to get to his body and take away his legs.
Butler's power might look impressive on paper, but the reality is that this is a huge step up in class for him, and it's hard to imagine that power having the same effect on Murata that it's had on Butler's previous foes. Instead we see Butler starting with a lot of self belief, but having that self belief chipped away at. By the middle rounds Murata's body shots, stiff jab up top, and his pressure, will have destroyed the belief of Butler and will then destroy his dreams.
Prediction - TKO8 Murata
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.