The Light Flyweight division, as regular readers of this website will be aware of, is one of our favourites with so much depth and great fights taking place on a regular basis. The next one of those great match ups takes place this coming Sunday as Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12) defends his WBA “super”, IBF and Ring Magazine titles against South African challenger Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10), himself a former WBA Minimumweight champion. For Taguchi the bout will be his first as a unified champion, in fact it will be the first ever time a Japanese fighter will be looking to defend unified titles.
Taguchi's rise in the last few years has been remarkable. The freakishly tall and rangy Tokyo fighter debuted back in 2006 and didn't get his first title fight until 2012, when he fought to a draw with Masayuki Kuroda for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Going into that bout Taguchi had gone 16-1 (7) and wasn't really looking like a future world champion. Since the draw with Kuroda we've seen Taguchi blossom into a fantastic fighter, going 11-1-1, with his only loss coming to Naoya Inoue. Not only has he racked up a solid looking run but he's gone on to beat top fighters, such as Florante Condes, Alberto Rossel, Kwanthai Onesongchaigym, Ryo Miyazaki, Robert Barrera and, most recently, Milan Melindo.
In the ring Taguchi is a freakishly big fighter at 108lbs, he has long rangy arms and can strike from distance though more often than not he seems to enjoy an up close battle on the inside, and has surprising ability inside the pocket. He combines his size with excellent stamina and work rate and has very under-rated power and a really gritty toughness. Although not a 1-punch KO artist he has been either dropping, cutting or hurting his opponents on a regular basis at world level and not many fighters seem to engage him in a war. The Watanabe man not only combines, size, skills and his in ring traits but also confidence and experience with a wealth of experience not only in the ring but also in the gym, rising through the ranks whilst in the same gym as Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono.
For Budler this bout is a second shot at a Light Flyweight title, having come up just short against Milan Melindo in a thrilling contest last year. The South African was a top Minimumweight for years and scored notable wins over the likes of Florante Condes, Nkosinathi Joyi, Pigmy Kokietgym, Xiong Zhao Zhong, Jesus Silvestre and Simphiwe Khonco. He was a long standing IBO champion and held the WBA title for a couple of years before losing to Byron Rojas in March 2016. That loss was Budler's final fight at 105lbs before he moved up in weight defeated and claimed two minor titles as he prepared to face Melindo, losing a really good split decision bout to the Filipino.
In the ring Budler is a speedy fighter who finds himself in grinding contests up close. His bouts are rarely pretty, but they are often fun with a lot of leather being thrown. Although a grinding fighter Budler can box on the outside and can use his skills to maintain distance when he needs to. Budler is impressive with his speed, his stamina and determination, but lacks in terms of power and only has two stoppages in the last 4 years, coming against Joey Canoy and Pigmy Kokietgym. The lack of power at world level is a problem for the South African, and have resulted in the 29 year old racking up over 275 rounds already in his career, an average of just over 8 rounds a fight.
Given that Budler likes to trade blows we can't see how he comes out on top here. We imagine Budler's gritty mentality will always keep him in the fight, and make for some thrilling moments, but his lack of power will fail to get Taguchi's respect and the Japanese fighter will simply out work, out battle and out punch the smaller man. Budler will certainly have some moments, especially when he uses his speed, but on the whole he'll not have the power or physicality to win the rounds. Taguchi may look to use his height at times, though we suspect he'll try not to fight at range and instead choose to swarm Budler and neutralise the South African's edge in speed.
We don't see Budler being stopped, but we see a clear decision going in favour of the unified champion.
The Lightweight division has been a rather interesting one in recent but one which hasn't had the super fights we'd been hoping for. Instead of top fights we've had a mix of solid contests, and really lacklustre ones. The one man who had stood out as consistently facing top contenders is Venezuelan star Jorge Linares (43-3, 27), the current WBA, Ring Magazine and WBC “Diamond” champion. Over the last three years he has defeated Kevin Mitchell, Anthony Crolla, twice, and Luke Campbell and this coming Saturday he looks to record his next defense, as he takes on Filipino foe Mercito Gesta (31-1-2, 17).
The 32 year old champion, dubbed "el niño del oro", or "the golden boy", has long been a world class fighter. He won his first world title back in July 2007, when he stopped Oscar Larios for the WBC Featherweight title, and he would subsequently claim the WBA Super Featherweight before winning the WBC Lightweight and later the WBA Lightweight title. What has helped him to be so successful is the fact he is one of the most naturally gifted fighters in the sport. He is hugely skilled, everything he does looks incredibly fluid and he combines that with under-rated power and some of the best combination punching in the sport.
Whilst wonderfully skilled Linares does have issues with durability and arguably concentration and stamina. His losses have all been stoppages, and all against fighters he was fancied to beat, Juan Carlos Salgado, Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson. Those losses have seen his chin being cracked, his energy running out and his skin ripping. Whilst he's a wonderful fighter to watch there is always a worry that he will cut, or be caught. There is also a worry that he will become bored in the ring, something we've seen a number of times, though hasn't yet cost him a win.
The 30 year old challenger has been a professional since 2003 and was tipped to be one of the major stars of Filipino boxing, with some dubbing him the next Pacquiao. Sadly though Gesta has failed to ever live up to that hype and looked totally confused and lost in his only other world title fight, a 2012 bout against the then IBF Lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez. The performance against Vazquez wasn't just bad, but it was confusing and weird, with Gesta regularly looking up to the big screen and looking disinterested, in what was a potentially career changing bout. That loss was followed by more than a year out of the ring, though he has since gone 5-0-1 (3), scoring a draw with Carlos Molina and wins over the likes of Miguel Angel Mendoza and Martin Honorio.
In the ring Gesta is a pretty good fighter, but not one who deserved the early career hype that he had. A lot of the hype was because he had debuted at the age of 16 and looked very promising as a prospect, but didn't have the big amateur career and it wasn't long until there was some flaws showing up in his performances. He was winning bouts, for the most part, and even fighting in the US, but a lot of the time he was failing to shine and wasn't being given real tests. To his credit howeber when he was stepped up he looked better than he had earlier, with wins against Oscar Meza, Ricardo Dominguez and Ty Barnett. But totally fell apart mentally against Vazquez.
Gesta is a southpaw with some nice skills and could be a test at 135lbs for many contenders. But he's not a particularly heavy handed fighter, or a high action fighter. He has a nice variety of shots, all of which look sharp and damaging, but lacks intensity and defensively he doesn't look anything great. That isn't helped by the fact his chin isn't the best, and he has been down a number of times during his career.
The best Gesta has a chance against the worst Linares, but the reality here is that Linares should school the Filipino, who may well end up suffering his first stoppage loss, if Linares wishes to make a statement. There really is only a very slim, punchers chance for Gesta here.
When we think about boxing in Asia we do typically think of Asian fighters. Fighters from Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines. What we often forget however is that numerous international fighters are now based in, managed by or promoted by Asian stables
On such man is the highly talented Venezuelan Jorge Linares (34-3, 22), a man who has been affiliated with Teiken promotions through out his career.
Linares returns to Japan on November 10th as he attempts to become a 3-weight champion and avenge the demons of an opening round blow out at the hands of Juan Carlos Salgado 4 years in what was his last world title fight in Japan.
It's been a long time since Linares was beaten by Salgado and since then the once promising career of Linares has failed to ever really reach the heights expected of him. Sure he has won 7 contests but he has also lost 2, in fact he's he's lost in his two highest profile contests since the loss to Salgado.
This time the risk of Linares being stopped is slim as he takes on WBA Lightweight champion Richar Abril (18-3-1, 8) a light punching but highly talented Cuban. In all honesty a stoppage loss here for Linares could well be the end of the road for him.
Aged just 28 Linares has been a fighter on the radar for what feels like an eternity. That's because he's been in and around the world level for over 6 years dating back to his first world title victory, a stoppage of Oscar Larios for the WBC Featherweight title. Since then he has been in a further 5 world title fights, winning 3 and losing 2.
On the flipside of that is the fact Abril is a bit of a late comer to the world scene. The Cuban only had his first world title fight 2 years ago and has only fought in 3 of them so far. Aged 31 he is older than Linares, though he's also tougher taking on, and in the eyes of many defeating, the rampaging Brandon Rios.
When we talk about the two fighters they are both boxers, but both entirely different.
Linares is a genuine joy to watch. He has quick hands, great movement, blistering combinations and whilst he's not a banger he can force stoppages through sheer work rate. On the reverse he's been seen as fragile both mentally and physically and he can be bullied around as well as worn out due to his work rate. Gorgeous to watch but certainly not a "warrior" at heart.
On the other hand Abril can be awful to watch. He can hold, he can wrestle, he can make things very messy and tedious. At the same time however he can pick a guy apart with an accurate jab, an efficient straight and land some amazingly crisp and sharp shots around a fighter defenses. At his best Abril is a fantastic pure boxer and his worst he's a cure for insomnia. Strangely we can see both sides of Abril in the same round which can lead to a lot of frustration watching him.
If fights were won on looks alone Linares would already have this one won. In the ring however the Cuban will make this very difficult. If Abril is allowed to get his jab going and allowed to hold when he wants to to slow the pace the Cuban will likely retain his title. If Linares however can set the pace for the first 7 or 8 rounds then Teiken will have managed to guide him to a third divisional title.
This bout really does depend on who can dictate the tempo of the fight. A slow fight is Abril's a fast fight is Linares's.
With that that said however Linares will almost certainly know that this will be his last major chance. He needs a win. That sort of pressure can see a fighter performing to their absolute best and if Linares does, then he takes this via a competitive clear decision. If the pressure gets to Linares than Abril gets this via a close decision.
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.