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.
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
The Minimumweight division has promised so much in recent years, yet has horribly under-delivered with no unification bouts and champions often facing lesser known challengers. There has been some great moments in the division over the last year or two, but the division hasn't managed to build on the action and excitement that Katsunari Takayama once gave us.
One of the biggest frustrations in the division has been WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart (19-0, 7). Early on his career he looked like he was going to be a new star for the division. He had a great nickname, a fantastic background from Muay Thai, and was thrown in at the deep end, fighting in a Youth title bout on his debut. With 3 stoppages in his first 4 bouts, and 5 in his first 8, it seemed like he had some pop and his desire to be tested was great. In just his 9th bout he was fighting for the WBA "interim" title against Carlos Buitrago, and since then he has gone on to claim the main WBA title.
In just 19 fights Knockout has beaten Carlos Buitrago, twice, Muhammad Rachman, Byron Rojas, twice, Shin Ono, Alexis Diaz, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xiong Zhao Zhong. On paper that's an impressive resume. Sadly though he's become being "Knockout CP Freshmart" to "Unanimous Decision CP Freshmart", with just 2 stoppages in his last 11, and his last 4 have all gone the distance. What's worse is how boring some of these bouts have become, with Knockout not taking risks, not going for a finish and instead his bouts have often meandered, to a forgettable, yet predictable conclusion.
Whilst Knockout is talented, he's not a risk taker, or someone who will put on a show. He'll often get himself in an early lead, then maul, make things messy and fiddle his way to a win with his early lead, rather than trying to shine.
This coming Friday Knockout makes his next defense of the WBA Minimumweight title and takes on unbeaten Filipino teenager ArAr Andales (10-0, 2). It's again a rather poor defense for Knockout, who looks like he's picking on a kid when a division has fighters like Simphiwe Khonco, Carlos Licona, Ricardo Astuvilca, Joey Canoy and Jose Argumedo floating around. That's not to say that Andales is a bad fighter, he isn't, he's just young, inexperienced and clearly a long way from his prime. He's an improving fighter, but one who isn't yet ready for a world title fight, and is being pushed into this fight a bit too early in his career, sadly.
Andales debuted in June 2017 and 15 months later he claimed his first title, the LuzProBa Minimumweight title, he would then add the WBA Asia title earlier this year, and has since defended the belt one, with a win over Cris Ganoza. The win over Ganoza showed that Andales is a true prospect, a real one to watch. But he is still only a prospect, with 10 bouts and 58 rounds under his belt, and the Ganoza fight aside he hasn't really faced anyone at even fringe regional level. From the footage available he's a smart fighter, uses good body shots and can use distance well, sneaking out of range when he needs to. Sadly though there is also a clear reckless side to his fighting and he could do with a lot more polishing before getting a shot at this level.
If Andales was handled right, and this opportunity came after a few more developmental fights against progressively better competition, maybe even with him facing a regional champion, he could, perhaps, be ready for Knockout. Instead we expect him to be a gallant loser, putting up a good effort, having moments, but failing to keep the intensity over 12 rounds in Thailand to defeat Knockout. The Thai isn't unbeatable, not even close, but Andales is ill prepared to take him on at this stage.
Prediction - UD 12 Knockout CP Freshmart
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 28, the WBA Minimumweight World Champion Thammanoon Niyomtrong will make his 6th defense, against the man, whom he beat for that very title, Byron Rojas.
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (18-0/7 KOs), also known as Knockout CP Freshmart, just like the majority of the boxers from Thailand, he began his fighting career as a Muay Thai fighter. During that time, he managed to win the Thai National as well as the Lumpinee & Rajadamnern Stadium titles, which are considered to be the sport’s most prestigious championships. By doing so, Niyomtrong has made himself a member of that elite group of men, who have held Muay Thai & Boxing world titles, such as Saensak Muangsurin, Samart Payakaroon and Veeraphol Sahaprom.
He made his pro boxing debut in 2012, and in just 2 years he won 8 fights, 6 of those via KO/TKO. On November of 2014, he took on Carlos Buitrago for the interim WBA Minimumweight World title. Niyomtrong put on a boxing clinic, keeping the pressure on for the entirety of the match, not slowing down for a single minute. Despite suffering a nasty cut at his left eye, his superior striking and counter game earned him the unanimous decision victory that night, thus the interim belt. Their rematch in 2016, was pretty much the same, only this time, Niyomtrong was even more dominant than before.
Knockout CP Freshmart defended the interim WBA title against 2 time World champion Muhammad Rachman, back in 2015. As in the aforementioned bout, the champ kept peppering Rachman constantly for 12 rounds. To the Indonesian’s credit, he never went down and also had a good offense, but nothing game changing. In the end, Niyomtrong showcased incredible hand speed and movement, to once again leave with the gold.
In 2016 he faced the WBA World champion Byron Rojas in a unification fight. Niyomtrong was going for the clinch, every time after throwing a good combination or got tagged, slowing the pace down, in what was a smart but less than exciting strategy, that secured him the win. 6 months later, Niyomtrong successfully defended his world title for the 1st time against former OPBF Light Flyweight champion Shin Ono, after dropping him in the 10th round and continued the assault until the closing bell. He also stopped former Japanese champion Go Odaira, with a sweet right cross in the 5th, after punishing him with a plethora of body shots.
After retaining the world title 2 more times, against Rey Loreto and Toto Landero, he squared off against former WBC World Champion Chaozhong Xiong, this past July, in China. After a relatively slow start to the match, Niyomtrong caught Xiong with a perfectly timed right cross to the chin, during the 3rd round, stunning the former champion momentarily. The action then picked up, as both fighters were trading punches, with the Thai boxer getting the better of these exchanges. Since Niyomtrong was the one pushing the action for the vast majority of the fight, he was awarded the decision, improving his record to a perfect 18-0.
Knockout CP Freshmart will now come face to face again with Byron Rojas (25-3/11 KOs), in a rematch 2.5 years in the making. The Nicaraguan’s biggest achievement was winning a close decision over the WBA Super World Minimumweight Champion Hekkie Budler (now the WBA Light Flyweight World Champion), back in 2016. After losing the title, he has been undefeated in his last 8 fights, including a victory over former WBC Silver champion Carlos Ortega, which was an action-packed eight rounder. Niyomtrong has had tougher challenges in that same timeframe, which has allowed him to improve his skills even further, in comparison to Rojas who has battled against lesser opponents. At that point, it’s safe to say that the Thai fighter will once again walk out with the victory. The real question is, what’s next for Niyomtrong. A unification bout with another champion, like Vic Saludar (IBF) or maybe it’s time for the former Muay Thai king to try his hand at Light Flyweight ? Only time will tell.
The Minimumweight division has been slowly creating a bit of buzz in the last few years. Typically the division has been chronically over-looked but thanks to action fighters like Roman Gonzalez, Katsunari Takayama and Akira Yaegashi we've slowly seen a snowball of interest for the men at 105lbs. That interesting is arguably at it's highest now with several notable champions, and very highly regarded contenders. Champions like Wanehng Menayothin and Hiroto Kyoguchi have certainly gained some for various reasons whilst Knockout CP Freshmart (17-0, 7) has probably the best name in the sport. Contenders like the hard hitting Tsubasa Koura or the amazingly skilled Mark Anthony Barriga add real depth to a division which has often only hand a handful of quality fighters.
This coming weekend the aforementioned Knockout CP Freshmart returns to the ring to defend his WBA Minimumweight title against WBA interim champion Xiong Zhao Zhong (27-7, 14), who was the first ever Chinese male world champion. The bout will be held in Qingdao China and see Knockout fighting outside of Thailand for the first time as a professional boxer.
The unbeaten champion got a lot of attention early in his career due to his memorable ring name, choosing to fight under the “Knokcout” moniker rather than his birth name of Thammanoon Niyomtrong. The former Muay Thai fighter made an immediate impact in professional boxing by claiming a WBC Youth title on debut, back in 2012. He then rose quickly through the ranks before claiming the WBA “interim” Minimumweight title in 2014, when he controversially defeated Carlos Buitrago. In 2016 he unified the interim title with the regular title, by defeating Byron Rojas in a competitive, but less than fantastic bout.
During his reign as the WBA interim, and regular, champion Knockout's reign has really been a mixed bag. He has scored solid wins over Buitrago, dominating a rematch between the two, Rey Loreto and Shin Ono, but also scored some really weak defenses against the likes of Muhammad Rachman, who was 43 at the time and Go Odaira. In the ring he is technically solid, and is improving pretty much with every fight. He's not the quickest, or the biggest punching or even the most energetic, but he's a very good all-rounder, arguably the best all rounder at 105lbs right now and is hard man to look impressive against.
At 35 years old Zhong is one of the division's senior citizens. He debuted back in 2006 and had a pretty slow start to his career, with China not really even being a blip on the boxing map back in 2006. Despite the low key start he did manager to fight for the WBC Flyweight title in 2009, dropping Daisuke Naito before coming up short in a messy bout in Japan.
In 2012 Zhong got his second shot at a world title, and defeated Javier Martinez Resendiz to claim the previously vacant WBC Minimumweight title, creating history by becoming China's first male world champion. He would defend the title twice, scoring a very notable win over Denver Cuello in his first defense, but was surprisingly dethroned in 2014 by Oswaldo Novoa, who stopped Zhong in 5 rounds. Since Zhong lost the WBC title he has had mixed fortunes, going 5-2 though claimed WBA interim title last time out with a very lucky win over Panya Pradbsri, AKA Petchmanee Kokietgym.
At his best Zhong was an awkward, bull like fighter. He lacked the nuances of a real world class fighter, but was tough, strong and hit surprisingly hard. His lack of technical ability has held him back, and whilst he has dropped fighters like Naito and Hekkie Budler the damage has come from his bull like strength and and wild, wide and unorthodox shots, rather than technically accurate boxing skills.
Given the skills and accuracy of Knockout, as well as his edge in youth and speed, we can't see anything but a win for the Thai. If he can stop Zhong it would be impressive, but we're expecting a decision for the Thai, who will dominate in such a way that the judges can't possibly give it to the local.
Interestingly the winner of this will be expected to face off with Byron Rojas, who's team had pushed to get a bout with Knockout before this bout was signed. That would likely lead to a rematch between Knockout and Rojas.
For a second week in a row we get mid-week world title action in Asia, this time in Thailand as WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (16-0, 7) defends his title against Filipino challenger Toto Landero (10-1-2, 2). For the Thai the bout is his 4th defense of the title, which he won from Byron Rojas in June 2016, whilst Landero will be getting his first world title bout.
The unbeaten Thai world champion is one of the best little men in the sport and a genuine world class fighter, who has proven himself time and time again since his professional debut back in 2012. The Thai might only have 16 boxing bouts under his belt but he was a great Muay Thai fighter before turning his hand at Western boxing, and doing so in a 10 rounder for a WBC Youth title. In 2014 he stepped up in class from the Youth competition to the world class level and narrowly beat Carlos Buitrago for the WBA “interim” title. As the interim champion he would really develop his skills whilst making 3 defenses, including a dominant one in a rematch against Buitrago. It was then that he out pointed Rojas for the full version of the title, which he has defended against Shin Ono, Go Odaira and Rey Loreto.
On paper Knockout's defenses of the title haven't been great. Both Ono and Odaira had come up short in previous world title bouts and Loreto had double digit losses, though was in great form and a worthy challenge. Sadly we are now closing in on 2 years since Knockout had his win over over Rojas, and since then we have seen the rocket powered rise of Hiroto Kyoguchi, who looks to be the division's true star in the making.
In the ring Knockout is a solid boxer puncher. He doesn't live up to the “Knockout” moniker but is a solid with a very good ring IQ, a sharp jab and an aggressive mindset. He can fight at a very good pace and appears to take a shot well, though does have question marks about his stamina, having faded late in a number of bouts. He's not the most destructive, the fastest or exciting fighter, but does look like someone who will be hard to beat, especially if he can remain in Thailand where he is used to the unique conditions of day time fights.
We've all had a chance to see the champion but the 22 year old challenger is a bit more of an unknown. He turned professional at the prodigious age of 18 and was 5-0-2 (2) after 7 bouts. During that early run he battled the likes of the then unbeaten Rolly Sumalpong, who gave Ken Shiro problems, and Philip Luis Cuerdo, who both held Landero to a draw, before losing in close rematches to the youngster. His most notable bouts come more recently however with a stoppage loss to Joey Canoy in 2016, with Landero being dropped in rounds 4 and 6 before Silvester Abainza stepped in to stop the bout, and a huge upset win over Vic Saludar last June.
On paper wins over Sumalpong, Cuerdo and Saludar are decent wins, but ones that really suggest he's ready for an OPBF title fight, not a world title fight. Like many at 105lbs however he's getting a shot due to the relative lack of contenders at the weight, especially those willing to travel to Thailand to fight an unbeaten champion. For those wondering that's also part of the reason why we've seen so many contenders, like Ono and Odaira, being recycled in recent years. The win over Salurdar is however a very good one and shows there is real talent with Landero, despite his lack of power.
What we're expecting here is for Landero to fight pretty confidently early on, however Knockout's more rounded skills, strength and power will be too much for the younger man, who will be broken down and likely stopped in the mid-to-late rounds. Landero might have the edge in youth and speed, but that's about it and in the conditions of Thailand you really need brutal power or exceptional skills to beat the champions, and Landero has neither of those. Even on neutral ground he wouldn't have enough for Knockout.
To some boxing fans the lower weight divisions aren't worthy of any attention or time. They are their to be derided, mocked or ignored. Whilst it's a real shame those fans have that view, that doesn't mean others of us can't enjoy those divisions which tend to give us some of the best action bouts and some brilliantly over-looked classics. This coming Saturday we may well get another of those over-looked classics as WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (15-0, 7) defends his title against mandatory challenger Rey Loreto (23-13, 15). On paper the uninformed may well look at the fight with extra derision given the different looking records, with Loreto having almost as many losses as Knockout has total bouts, but to those who know the men this is a mouth watering encounter.
The champion first made waves thanks to his unusual ring name. It was memorable, it was different and even a bit comical. It was also much easier to remember than his birth name of Thammanoon Niyomtrong. He won the WBC Youth title on his debut, just over 5 years ago, and defended it 7 times in total, before giving it up to fight for bigger and better titles. That resulted in Knockout claiming the interim WBA title in 2014 with a controversial win over Carlos Buitrago and since then he has gone from strength to strength, claiming the full title last year with a win over Byron Rojas.
At times in his career Knockout has looked laborious, and clumsy but fight after fight he has improved, with that being obvious in his 2016 rematch with Buitrago. Now the only major flaw that stands out is his questionable stamina, which has seen him running low in later rounds. Other than his stamina issues he looks like a talented, heavy handed and skilled fighter who could well be the best 105lb fighter on the planet. He may not have the 40-something win of compatriot Wanheng Menayothin but wins over Buitrago and Rojas are just as good as the best wins scored by Wanheng, and he's not taken the easy record padding fights that his countryman has.
On paper the challenger looks useless. 13 losses from 36 fights is pretty bad. However they only tell a fraction of the story of Rey Loreto's career. To begin his career he went 0-4, losing all 4 fights in a little over 6 months during 2008. In 2011 he was 8-11 (4), a long way from ever looking like a world title challenger. Then came a run of 7 wins, including a stoppage in Thailand over Wisanu Kokietgym. Aged 21 Loreto was then 15-11 (8) and was a veteran at such a young age. Like a veteran he went through a bad patch, losing 2 of 3 against naturally bigger men, but has since reeled off 8 wins. They have including a technical decision over Pornsawan Porpramook and a 2014 Upset of the Year contender against Nkosinathi Joyi
In the ring Loreto is an aggressive fighter with a great engine, really under-rated power and a great work rate. He might not be the most rounded fighter, or the quickest, or even a particularly technical fighter, but he's incredibly talented and very destructive with natural power, as he showed against Joyi. Also worth noting is he's a southpaw, making him even more feared and showing why he has been relatively avoided in recent years.
We really think this could be something special. Loreto is hungry, he's been forced to wait, he's already a veteran and there is no way he's not going to be putting it all on the line here. He might not be as talented as Knockout but he's certainly hungrier and that could prove to be pretty key in this bout. We think the skills will be the difference, with Knockout winning, but he will have to fight through hellfire to come out on top and Loreto will not be there for loss #14, he'll be there for the title. We suspect this will be an exciting, hard hitting war and something that no fan should be missing out on.
March is set to be an incredibly busy month with major bouts spread across the month. Despite the spread of bouts through the whole of Mach it's fair to say that the first week or so is genuinely hectic with a huge number of big bouts crushed into the first few days of March.
The first of those notable bouts will see WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart (14-0, 6) defending his title against Japanese speedster Go Odaira (13-5-3, 1), in what will be Odaira's third world title shot in just over 2 years.
Coming in to the bout Knockout will be a clear favourite, for so many reasons. Not only is the unbeaten champion, and arguably the best fighter at 105lbs. His record may not be he deepest in the division but his recent wins over the likes of Carlos Buitrago, Alexis Diaz, Byron Rojas and Shin Ono have shown that he's a very talented fighter who is consistently developing his skills. He's not longer the powerful but crude fighter he once was and is a much more rounded boxer,
At his worst Knockout is a crude and slow fighter who looks predictable, as we saw in his first bout with Buitrago back in 2014. Since then he has improved significantly, and although he's still not lightening quick he is a much smoother fighter than he used to be. The smoothness has made other issues more visible and last time out, against Ono, he showed real pacing issues and looked exhausted in the later rounds. By then Ono was too far behind to capitalise but a better fighter could make Knockout pay in the future. Interestingly the bout with Ono saw Knockout's KO % fall to just 43% and was his 5th complete 12 rounder in his last 6, suggesting that he may not be the heavy handed puncher once looked like.
In the ring Odaira really is a speedy fighter, much like his mentor Susumu Hanagata. Odaira has lovely hand speed and movement, and is a a fighter who has had much of his success to date based on that speed. Unfortunately though he totally lacks power, physically he's also lacking and can be bullied around and has shown stamina issues of his own, and when his stamina is tested he seems to lack the durability to get through a storm. That has resulted in a 7th round TKO loss to Katsunari Takayama and a 5th round TKO loss to Wanheng Menayothin in his previous world title bouts
Although he has come up short in world title bouts in the past he has proven to be among the best on the Japanese domestic scene with a reign as the Japanese champion. As the domestic champion he recorded 3 defenses, beating the likes of Hiroya Yamamoto, Yuma Iwahashi and Yutaka Sowano. Sadly those defenses were against relatively poor opponents and came before the recent rise of fighters like Tatsuya Fukuhara, Ryuya Yamanaka, Tsubasa Koura, Reiya Konishi, Hiroto Kyoguchi and Masataka Taniguchi, who could have let us see how good Odaira really was.
Whilst Knockout will be the favourite based on his own ability Odaira will also have history working against him, with no Japanese fighter having ever won a world title bout in Thailand. In more than 20 contests Japanese fighters have been rebuked, with the “best” result being Hirofumi Mukai's technical draw with Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Saying that however Odaira has been planning ahead and this will be his third bout on the Land of Smiles and may well call on that experience with the Thai conditions here.
Although Odaira has got some experience of Thailand it's hard to see him having enough skills or experience to survive the 12 rounds with Knockout. Instead we're expecting to see another bout where Odaira starts well before falling apart in the middle rounds. Hopefully with Knockout shining enough to entice some of the new wave of Japanese fighters to challenge him, rather than having to reuse challengers like Odaira and Ono in the future
The Minimumweight division has had a very, very, under-rated year in 2016 with the key part of that being the Thai pairing of WBC champion Wanehng Menayothin, who defeated mandatory challenger Saul Juarez, and WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart (13-0, 6) who scored notable wins over the Nicaraguan pairing of Carlos Buitrago and Byron Rojas. Knockout will look to close out the year with one more notable win as he takes on former OPBF champion Shin Ono (19-7-3, 3).
Knockout, who has fought in title bouts through out his professional boxing career, claimed the WBA interim title in late 2014, with a close win over Carlos Buitrago, but has improved since then as he showed in his second bout with Buitrago. That rematch with Buitrago was Knockout's 3rd defense of the interim title with the talented Thai claiming the full version of title when he out boxed Byron Rojas in June.
At his worst Knockout can look a bit clumsy, a bit stationary and a but lazy in the ring, with his style being a fairly rigid one. Thankfully though it does seem, fight by fight, that he's improving and is becoming a more rounded fighter, taking lessons from every fight he has. That doesn't mean he's a totally rounded fighter but he is one that is showing real improvement. His guard is strong, his footwork is very under-rated and his hands, whilst not concussive, are heavy. Given that he's fighting in Thailand he's also well adjusted to the Thai conditions, has solid stamina, even in the humidity of The land of Smiles, and can step it up if he needs to late in a bout.
At his best Ono is a solid fighter, he's a tricky southpaw with nice movement, nice speed and good skills. He does however lack in terms of power, stamina and in recent fights he has began to look like a 33, soon to be 34, year old who has had a hard career. A May 2015 loss to Katsunari Takayama, for the IBF title, saw Ono impress but it would be 26 months until he would have another bout of note and was dominated by a hungry Kenichi Horikawa, who became the first man to stop Ono. Last time out Ono was being outboxed by Tatsuya Fukuhara before a headclash bailed out Ono with a technical draw.
Through his career Ono has fought numerous notable opponents. That has seen him claim wins over the Toshimasa Ouchi, Yu Kimura, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Omari Kimweri, but the most recent of those notable wins was the win over Kimweri almost 4 years ago. Added to the poor recent form is inactivity, which has seen him fighting just 3 times in the last 24 months, going 1-1-1 during that run.
At his best Ono may have given the worst Knockout a good bout, but the reality is that Ono is a faded fighter and Knockout is a drastically improving one who should be able to bully and break down the challenger, likely ending the bout in the later rounds.
The last few years have been really interesting in the lower weights, even if they have lacked the Western appeal of some of the other weigh classes. The interest has been mostly from Asia, though other countries have had a their own bits of with South Africa having Hekkie Budler and Nicaragua having both Carlos Buitrago and Byron Rojas, who actually defeated Budler earlier this year for the WBA Minimumweight title.
Later this week worlds collide as Rojas (17-2-3-1, 8) travels to Thailand to defend his title against unbeaten “interim” champion Knockout CP Freshmart (12-0 6), one of the rising stars of the Thai scene and a man who holds two wins over the aforementioned Buitrago.
Although his record might not be the most impressive in regards to numbers Rojas has got a legitimate claim to being one of the top guys in the division, with his win over Budler being one of the most credible among the current crop at 105lbs. Notably that was Rojas's 11th straight win not including a No Contest, and saw him continue turning around a career that was once 6-2-3 (4) whilst also claiming a world title on the road in his only fight outside of Nicaragua.
In the ring Rojas is fearless. He's not a big puncher, or the most skilled, or the must elusive or even the quickest but he is a warrior and he comes to fight, comes forward and is in an opponents face as he forces the tempo and pace of a fight. Not only does he control the tempo but he also sets and extremely high one with busy output and a high pressure mentality. Strangely he seems to have a style that is similar to many current Thai's with his pressure output.
Unbeaten fighter Knockout turned professional in 2012, following a lot of success in Muay Thai, and immediately fought for titles, winning the WBC Youth title in his debut. After 8 fights he was regarded as ready for world title level and fought the aforementioned Buitrago, winning a very close decision over the Nicaraguan for the WBA “interim” title. Following that win over Buitrago we've seen Knockout record 3 defenses of the “interim” title and develop significantly, rounding off some very rough edges.
In the ring Knockout does still have clear traits of being a Muay Thai convert despite that it's also clear that he's a true fighter and is constantly improving, developing his boxing skills and adapting to the Western boxing style. He's aggressive, a solid puncher and is developing his defensive abilities every fight, and actually looked defensively responsible last time out in a rematch against Buitrago, with his head movement being genuinely impressive.
Coming in to this one we're expecting something very exciting with Rojas going to Thailand for a fight with Knockout, and going there to really fight. Unfortunately in Thailand the conditions are harsh and fighting like Rojas does could be a very tough ask for 12 rounds. We suspect he'll start fast before the conditions begin to get to him slow him and inevitably allow Knockout to earn a decision win.
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.