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
This coming Saturday isn't a huge day for Asian boxing, but there is stuff to get excited about, and for boxing fans in general the pick of the shows takes place in California.
That card has a trio of "world title bouts" on it, one of which will see Russian based Uzbek Batyr Akhmedov (7-0, 6) fighting for the WBA "regular" Light Welterweight title. The unbeaten Akhmedov takes on fellow unbeaten fighter Mario Barrios (24-0, 16), in what should be a very explosive contest between two hard hitting and fast improving fighters. Whilst the WBA "regular" title isn't really a world title, it does give us some great match ups and this one of those.
Akhmedov, also known as Batuhan Gozgec, was born in Uzbekistan, competed at the Olympics for Turkey and is based in Russia. He's a fighter with a mixed background, but a strong background all the same, having competed at the Rio games and been a very strong amateur with WSB experience as well. Although he was successful in the unpaid ranks his style always seemed like it would be better in the professional ranks, and that was seen when he began his professional career. In just his 4th professional bout he dominated the solid Ricky Sismundo and quickly added other notable wins over Ismael Barroso and Viktor Plotnikov. Those 3 wins alone helped secure him a high world ranking and got him in the world title mix.
In the ring Akhmedov is a hard hitting boxer-puncher, who has real spite on his shots. He's not the most defensively sound fighter, but he's also not someone who takes too many risks, until he feels he's softened his opponent up. Like many Easter European and Central Asian fighters he does have very solid amateur credentials, but also a bit of flair to his boxing, wanting to catch the eye of fans. When he gets someone hurt he really goes all out to take them out, and has brutal power in both hands. His main issues is when he does turn on the jets he does leave himself a bit open as he gets often left hand happy.
At 24 years old Barrios is just coming into his prime, but his career feels like it's been a slow burning one since his professional debut in 2013. The American showed some early promise, but was originally fighting at Bantawmeight. Since the early days his frame has filled out and he's become a strong and powerful Light Welterweight, settling at a weight that seems to be the best for him. At one point there was question marks about his power but since going through the weights and physically maturing. The development of his power has seen him scoring 8 straight stoppages, but his competition has, at times, been rather limited, under-sized or small. For Barrios the bout really is a huge step up.
Watching Barrios in action we can see how his frame suits the move up to 140lbs more than it did at the lower weights. He's a big kid, with a tall, rangy frame and adding muscle to that frame has certainly been best for his career. Even at 140lbs he looks big, and we do wonder how he made 122lbs. He's more patient than Akhmedov, and looks for openings, trying to to box himself into bouts. He's got quick hands, nice range and good power, though of course we've not seem him being caught by a legitimate 140lb puncher yet, and that is a big question he will need to answer here.
Barrios is certainly the more rounded, pure boxer, he's the one who will fight behind his jab, the one who will move and use the ring. Akhmedov however is a tank, he'll come forward, throw from some unusual angles and look to get his thunderous power into play early on. That power may turn out to be too much for Barrios, who really hasn't been caught by a legitimate power punching Light Welterweight.
We expect Barrios to start well, but sooner or later he will taste the power of Akhmedov, and from then on we suspect he'll be ground down by the Uzbek-Russian who will eventually get the stoppage, and secure the biggest win of his career.
Prediction - Akhmedov TKO9
The second set of WBSS tournaments begin this coming weekend in Yokohama.
The first bout in the competition is mouth watering clash at 140lbs as we get pressure fighter against puncher with Kiryl Relikh (22-2, 19) facing off with Eduard Troyanovsky (27-1, 24). On paper this has the potential to be a very explosive encounter, with both fighters being aggressive, both fighters looking for earlier finishes and both men wanting to advance in the WBSS. Not only is this a WBSS bout but also a contest for the WBA Light Welterweight title and a chance for both men to shine in front a Japanese audience in the arena.
Relikh, a Belorussian 28 year old, is the defending champion and the betting favourite. He's an aggressive pressure fighter dubbed the “Mad Bee” because of his aggression. He was a very good amateur before turning professional in 2011. As a professional his career was a bit of a slow burner, with no massive backing in Belarus for boxing. Despite the slow burn he was developing well in his homeland and stayed busy during the formative years of his professional career. He would begin to get chances outside of Belarus in 2014 and linked up with Ricky Hatton. Hatton would guide Relikh to his first major international fight in 2016, a narrow and ultra-competitive loss to Ricky Burns. Despite being a loss it put Relikh on the boxing map and has since lead to two bout with Rances Barthelmy. The first of them was a very controversial loss for the Belorussian who avenged the defeat in clear fashion when the two men had their rematch earlier this year.
In the ring Relikh lives up to his “Mad Bee” moniker. He's incredibly busy, buzzing around his opponents and throwing a lot of heavy leather. He's not a big hitting single punch KO artist, despite his 19 stoppages, but he's a busy fighter with every shot taking it's toll on his opponents. His work rate is a bigger issue than his power and at 28 years old he is just getting fitter and stronger. Sadly though is defensively not the tightest and he was dropped in the first bout against Barthelmy. So he can be hurt, especially to the body, and can find himself taking shots that her perhaps doesn't want to take. It's actually, also, worth noting that despite his average bout being just over 4 rounds he has got great stamina to do 12 rounds, which he's done in his last 3 bouts.
At 38 years old Troyanovsky is an older fighter but he hasn't had too much wear and tear. In fact if anything the Russian has done really well in avoiding taking any sort of prolonged damage due to the fact he is a frightening puncher. His 24 stoppages in 27 wins has seen him average just 3.4 rounds a fight and has seen him score some sensation victories, including his memorable stoppage win over Japan's Keita Obara in 2016. He's been a professional since 2009 and made an impact after just a year of being a professional, stopping veteran former world title challenger Matt Zegan in December 2010. He would later score notable mid-level wins over the likes of Walter Estrada, Jose Alfaro and Aik Shakhnazaryan before fighting unbeaten IBF champion Cesar Rene Cuenca in 2015. He would stop Cuenca in 6 rounds then defend his belt against Cuenca and Obara the following year before suffering an upset loss in 40 seconds to the unheralded Julius Indongo. Since then he has bounced back with notable wins over Michele Di Rocco and Carlos Manuel Portillo.
Whilst Relikh is a pressure fight Troyanovsky is a pure puncher. His boxing skills are very limited but his power is really a game changer and even talented boxers need to be wary of him connecting, just once. At 38 years old he is still very dangerous due to his limitations. There isn't much speed or defense but he's not a fighter you should take risks against. If he clips you you're either going down, or going to be serious buzzed as he tries to finish you off. Despite hitting hard his ability to take a shot is questionable. Whilst his loss to Indongo did come to a peach of a punch, he has been rocked a few times, in fact Obara seemed to hurt before being stopped himself. Coming in he will know that this will be his last chance, and a loss here likely spells the end of his career, at least as leading contender in a division that has warmed up a lot in the last 12 months or so.
It's clear that Relikh will look to get inside, grind down the older man and take him out whilst Troyanovsky will be trying to load up his big right hand and take him out with a single shot. We suspect Relikh will be fully aware of how Troyanovsky sets up his power and will be tactically avoiding it, whilst grinding down the dangerous challenger. There is always going to be a sense of risk for Relikh, but we suspect he will come out on top in the middle rounds, with Troyanovsky's 38 year old body simply being worn out and beaten down.
It's not often that we can say this but there is a world title fight this coming weekend that seems to have flown under-the-radar despite the fact it features two unbeaten men. That fight will be a WBA Light Welterweight clash between the highly regarded challenger Anton Novikov (29-0-0-1,10) and the defending champion Jessie Vargas (24-0, 9)
The bout has been over-looked for a lot of reasons. Firstly it's not the best fight on it's own show, that's the potential thriller between Brandon Rios (31-2-1, 23) and Diego Gabriel Chaves (23-1, 19). The Rios/Chaves bout is the shows main event and could be the most exciting bout of the month with two men who have power and like to have a fight. Another reason the bout has been over-looked is the other world title fight on the same night which will feature the big punching Sergey Kovalev (24-0-1, 22) and Black Caparello (19-0-1, 6), for our money Kovalev is one of the most exciting men in boxing.
The final reason is connected to the previous reasons in many ways. Rios, Chaves and Kovalev are all exciting men to watch, they all bring action and they all score stoppages. Novikov and Vargas, for all the talent they have, don't stop people. Between them they have a paltry 19 stoppages in 54 bouts. They are the definition of "distance" fighters.
Being distance fighters isn't a bad thing, far from it, but in this case they are relatively boring distance fighters.
Novikov is a very tidy and wonderfully well schooled fighter who throws nice combinations and does a lot of things that are very good. But really lacks power and is defensively sound enough to defend himself when he's forced on to the back foot. He is a man who lives up to his nickname of "The Ice Pick" in many ways including the repeated way he can land with out doing a lot of damage though his is sharp with shots, he reels them off very nicely. In fact from watching him he is only "power" way from being real world class.
Vargas is, in many ways, similar to Novikov. He also lacks power, is well schooled and does a lot of things nicely. He does however move more than Novikov and throws fewer shots, though what he does throw are flashy and eye catching shots that seem to often look like slaps as opposed to punches.
For the challenger this is his first step up and his first really major fight. To US audiences, who are getting this shown to them, he's a bit of a mystery man despite having fought in American several times. Sadly what his US bouts showed is that he really lacks power and they have failed to really generate any buzz around him. It's hard to market a light hitting Russian in the US.
Whilst Novikov has failed to be marketed well Vargas was once advertised as the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather Jr, an advert that really needed taking to the trading standards commission for false advertising. As soon as the Mayweather link was taken away fans bored of Vargas who was more talented in sending fans to sleep than opponents.
With both men having less than exciting styles and a lack of power we're expecting this one to go the distance and sadly we're expecting it to be a dull one with Novikov chasing Vargas and Vargas landing shots on the move. The by Vargas will likely be better than the limited success Novikov gets and the American will probably defend his belt but leave very few fans excited about him.
We're sorry to say this but of all the bouts this weekend this is probably the most difficult one to care about. It looks likely to be a dull one. We hope we're wrong but if it's a stinker don't blame us.
(Image courtesy of Boxrec.com)
If Manny Pacquiao's rematch with unbeaten American Timothy Bradley is this weekend's main course for boxing fans then one of the best looking starters is the WBA Light Welterweight clash between unbeaten champion Khabib Allakhverdiev (19-0, 9) and unbeaten challenger Jessie Vargas (23-0, 9).
The fight, obviously lacking the high profile names of the Pacquiao/Bradley fight, is one we're expecting could be highly entertaining, arguably the most entertaining bout of the weekend, despite the fact neither man is blessed with amazing speed, skills or power. In fact both are pretty basic in what they do but their flaws, their issues and their relative lack of a stand out skill should mean they make for a special contest.
Of the two men it's Allakhverdiev who is the big betting favourite. The unbeaten champion from Russia is defending his belt for the second time and is on a run of decent results with victories over Nate Campbell, Ignacio Mendoza, Kaizer Mabuza, Joan Guzman and Souleymane M'baye. Of course they aren't murderers's row but they are all credible fighters and some of them, the Guzman one in particular, really were eye catching performances by a man looking to establish himself as one of the elite Light Welterweights.
When we talk about Allakhverdiev we talk about a man who seemingly can do it all at times. He can box, he fan fight and he can brawl. The flaw with him however is that he sometimes doesn't seem to know what he should be doing when. Against Guzman for example he had success in out working and out powering the Dominican though late in the bout tried to fight on the back foot with counters rather than taking it his opponents. Against M'baye he often looked disinterested, as if he knew he could stop the French veteran whenever and as a result looked poor for long spurts of the bout.
At his best Allakhverdiev is a genuine to 6 guy at 140lbs. He's a nightmare for pretty much anyone and versatile enough to give very good fighters a lot of trouble. At his worst he's mentally susceptible to turning off, giving rounds away and getting himself in to unnecessary trouble.
In unbeaten challenger Vargas we have a man who was once tipped by Floyd Mayweather Jr to be a star. That claim however seems to have been one of Floyd's most outlandish and looking from the outside in Vargas has nothing "star" like about him. He's bland, boring, lacks power and doesn't have anything that makes us want to watch him unless his opponent is an exciting type of fighter.
From his 23 fight career Vargas has had only a handful of mildly memorable bouts. One of those was his clash with Trenton Titsworth, which saw Titsworth stealing the show as he kissed Vargas and was deducted 2-points for "kissing" and for doing it "deliberately"-we kid you not, one was his fight with Josesito Lopez, which saw many feeling Lopez had been robbed due to Vargas's Mayweather links at the time, and finally his bout with Wale Omotoso, which saw both men going to war in what was a really good fight.
Vargas is a somewhat talented pure boxing with nice speed, nice heart and guts. Three very admirable traits. Unfortunately he lacks anything to really differentiate himself from 90% of other promising young fighters.
Against a fighter coming to fight with him, as Omotoso and Lopez did, Vargas can be dragged in to a dog fight. It's that that we're hoping to see here with Allakhverdiev hopefully coming with the intention of setting an aggressive pace, forcing Vargas to fire back and in the process give us 12 good, solid and entertaining rounds of action.
If the fight is fought as a boxing contest we think Vargas, a 2-1 underdog,could manage to do enough to spring the upset. If the bout is a battle though we can only see a successful defence from the Russian who will need to be at his best here in what is his toughest fight so far.
(Picture of Khabib courtesy of boxrec)
Courtesy of Boxrec.com
Russian Light Welterweight Khabib Allakhverdiev (18-0, 8) seemed to emerge from nowhere last year to become the WBA Light Welterweight champion courtesy of a technical decision over Juan Guzman.
Some 7 months after the victory over Guzman, Allakhverdiev returns to the ring to defend his title for the first time. His challenger is French veteran
Souleymane M'baye (40-4-1, 22), a former champion himself.
Allakhverdiev seemed to appear, to the wider boxing public, almost from nowhere with his victory from Guzman. To the hardcore boxing fans however many knew just how good the Russian was. He had started his quick climb to a world title fight in late 2011 with a technical decision over Nate Campbell and remained on a roll with stoppages of Ignacio Mendoza and Kaizer Mabuza before defeating the previously unbeaten Guzman.
Going in to the Guzman bout the casual fans, who had seen Guzman earlier in his career, expected the Dominican fighter to come out on top against the unknown Russian. A section of the hardcore fans expected Guzman to have one final hurrah in what was expected to be his last chance but Allakhverdiev was simply too young, too strong and too good, dropping Guzman several times before a knee injury forced an early ending.
What Allakhverdiev proved in the 4 bouts mentioned above (Guzman, Mendoza, Mabuza and Campbell bouts) was that he wasn't afraid of reputation. He was going to get in there, apply pressure, throw punches and grind down his opponents. What he also proved was that he hit harder than his record stated and was an intelligent fighter able to target fighters weaknesses.
In M'baye we have a challenger who maybe "at home" (the fight will take place in Monte Carlo, Monaco just on the outskirts of France) but at 38 is surely too long in the tooth to really be really a credible challenger.
Like Guzman, M'baye seems to have more lives than a cat and despite only scoring a single victory in the the last 3 years he has somehow managed to get yet another world title fight (in fact going in to this fight the Frenchman is ranked #2 by the WBA).
At his best M'baye was a talented fighter with excellent single shots. Not quite a fighter who lived up to his nickname of "The Sensation", but still a very good fighter. Sadly for M'baye his prime wasn't about lack of talent but more about his mental application inside the ring. He could often switch off for rounds at a time and that's actually how he lost his WBA Light Welterweight title to Gavin Rees back in 2007.
Despite boasting wins over Khalid Rahilou, Andriy Kotelnik, Ammeth Diaz, Colin Lynes and Antonin Decarie it's hard to really say that M'baye, even in his prime, would actually be favoured over Allakhverdiev (at least in a fairly judged contest).
In his current state, M'baye really doesn't have much of a chance against Allakhverdiev. The Russian will set a high tempo early (a bit like Gavin Rees did) and mentally, if not physically, break M'baye with pressure and hard shots.
The question for us isn't whether or not Allakhverdiev will retain his title, we're sure he will, but whether or not he can stop M'baye. The Frenchman has only been stopped once in his 45 fights (and that came via an injury to his knee) though with age, ring rust and questionable stamina all against him as well as the Russian, we'd certainly not rule a stoppage out.
...of course we could be wrong and M'baye could show off his sharp shooting skills and make Allakhverdiev look awful.
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.