On February 22nd we'll see WBO Super Bantamweight champion Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26) hunt his 5th defense, as he takes on the little known Filipino challenger Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16). On paper, and in the eyes of many fans, this is a total mismatch and Santisima is being thrown to the wolves, much like countryman Juan Miguel Elorde was last September when he was matched with the Mexican champion. The big question here then, is whether or not Santisima stands a chance, or is he another push over for the Mexican champion?
The 26 year old champion really announced himself on the world stage in impressive fashion in December 2018, when he defeated the previously unbeaten Isaac Dogboe for the WBO world title. Since winning the belt from Dogboe we've seen Navarrete defeat Dogboe in a rematch, along with the unbeaten but untested Francisco Da Vaca, the limited Juan Miguel Elorde and the poor Francisco Horta, stopping all 4 men. On paper stopping 4 world title challengers in just 7 months, the time between his first and fourth defenses, is impressive, but the level of competition, Dogboe aside, is poor. To say the least.
Although his competition hasn't been great few can argue with how god Navarrete has looked. The Mexican is an aggressive, powerful monster in the ring who looks huge at the weight, throws a lot of leather and is very heavy handed. He can box and move, but at his best he's an aggressive fighter who brings pressure and grinds opponents down with a combination of volume and physicality. He's the type of fighter who looks to be getting better with every fight, but sadly his competition is offer so little recently that it's hard to know how good he really is. That's a huge shame given the depth of the division, which has fighters like Hiroaki Teshigawara, TJ Doheny, Albert Pagara, Angelo Leo, Thomas Patrick Ward, Ronnie Rios, Tramaine Williams and Stephen Fulton.
Aged 23 the challenger is stepping up massively, though does enter the bout as a confident fighter on the back of a 17 fight winning streak. Sadly there are a lot of worries about Santisima, who isn't a bad fighter, but isn't someone who is ready for a world title fight. The heavy handed Santisima lost on debut, and was 2-2 after 4 bouts but has improved since then, and scored notable wins, on the Filipino domestic scene. These have included victories over the likes of Jerry Nardo, Marco Demecillo, Rex Wao and Rene Dacquel. Despite the win over his domestic fighters his most notable win to date is actually over Mexico veteran Uriel Lopez. That win over Lopez was the only time we've seen the Filipino extended 12 rounds. He dominated that bout but did have flaws exposed.
In the ring Santisima is a fun fighter to watch, but he's very flawed. He's heavy handed, which is his biggest strength, and likes to go to the body, applying pressure and working on the inside. Sadly though he doesn't really seem to apply pressure with any thought process behind things. Instead of boxing his way inside, behind his jab, his just marches in, lets a flurry go, and then backs off, before repeating. With some serious training and development he has got the tools to become a very good fighter. Sadly his current style leaves him open on his way in, and when he backs off he often drops his hands when he feels safe.
Sadly for Santisima, whilst he is a decent fighter, there are simply too many flaws and too many holes. Those holes will be picked apart by Navarette, who we suspect will break Santisima down rather quickly. Santisima is, for us, better than Juan Miguel Elorde, who Navarette beat in 4 rounds, and a lot more dangerous. However, we actually think Santisima is going to be stopped quicker than his countryman due to the fact he's more aggressive and takes more risks, likely walking on to something big in the first 3 rounds. Until the stoppage this will be very exciting, but also rather one-sided.
Prediction TKO3 - Navarette
On December 31st we'll see the decade come to an end, ending what has been an amazing decade of boxing. The final world title bout of the decade comes from Japan, because who else puts on New Year's Eve boxing? And will see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (24-2, 14) defending his title against mandatory challenger Jeyvier Cintron (11-0-0-1, 5). For Ioka this will be his 18th world title bout, in a career that will likely always be over-looked by many, whilst Cintron will be getting his first world title bout.
To close out a decade this isn't a huge world title fight, but given how much of a star Ioka is in Japan this is still a huge deal and it looks likely to be a great chance for Japanese fans to begin their new year celebrations just a few hours early.
Ioka has been one of the most notable Japanese fighters of the decade, in fact if we're being honest he has been one of the most notable fighter of the decade end of. He has fought at world level since 2011, and even with a retirement part way through the decade he has continued to be a very relevant figure in boxing, making a successful comeback. As many are aware boxing flows through Ioka's veins, his father was a fighter and his uncle was famously a 2-weight world champion. That family linage has help make Ioka a star, and Japan's first male 4-weight world champion and only the 4th man in history win titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115.
Ioka is one of the sports most over-looked fighters. He's an excellent boxer-puncher, a brilliant body puncher and despite only having 26 fights to his name he is someone who has fought almost his entire career at world level. Going through his record reads like a who's who of the lower weights with wins over Oleydeong Sithsamerchai, Akira Yaegashi, Juan Hernandez, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo and Aston Palicte. He's adaptable and a genuinely fantastic all-round talent, though will sadly always be Japan's #2, at best, behind Naoya Inoue.
Cintron was a top amateur, a 2-time Olympian, and had won his first 10 bouts before having a No Contest with Koki Eto in a world title eliminator. That No Contest was a weird one, with Cintron being stopped following a brutal headclash, though Cintron would go on to win a rematch against Eto with ease, near enough shutting out the Japanese fighter over 10 rounds. That win was his best to date and comes after other decent wins against the likes of Alonso Melendez and Marvin Solano. Decent but not world class.
Given he was a top amateur it's not going to be a surprise to say that Cintron is a talented boxer. He's light on his feet, knows how to use the ring, and fires off technically correct shots. He is however a man moving up in class, significantly, and this will be the first time he's been in the ring with a genuine world class fighter. It will also be the first time he's fought in the East and the first time he's gone into the bout as an under-dog. He's a genuine talent, and at 24 is still improving, but there is a feeling that maybe this fight is coming to soon for him. Sure Ioka was 21 years old and 6-0 (4) when he won his first world title, but he was fighting at home and was up against someone less good than he is now.
We see Cintron a a future world champion. He's an excellent young fighter with so much potential. We don't see him beating Ioka however. We expect Cintron to have early success behind his speed and movement, but Ioka's powerful body attack will take his legs away, and when that happens Ioka will begin to take over, eventually taking a clear decision over Cintron, who will grit it out and survive though some tough moments late on.
With this being the last world title fight of the decade it does see attention turn back to Ioka, who in 2010 was still a rising prospect, and for him to now close out the decade in the same way he has finished so many years recently does feel kind of right, and this will be the 8th time he had fought on the final day of the year.
Prediction UD12 Ioka
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 31st, 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka defends his WBO Flyweight title against Chinese rising star Wulan Tuolehazi.
Kosei Tanaka (14-0/8 KOs) is considered to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World championships.
He finally turned pro in 2013 and after winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked fighter Ryuji Hara (23-2) for the OPBF Strawweight belt. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men compete at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the next and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans in attendance. Finally in the 10th, Tanaka delivered a brutal nonstop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage.
5 months removed from his breakout performance, Tanaka became the WBO Strawweight World champion, after beating Julian Yedras (24-7) for the vacant crown. His sole defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (19-4). Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting tagged by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even suffering his first knockdown, before stopping Saludar with a sweet liver shot to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the World title in 2018)
Tanaka would then move up to Light Flyweight and once again captured gold, putting on a boxing clinic against former World champion Moises Fuentes (25-6). He comfortably defended the WBO championship over knockout artist Angel Acosta (21-2) but had a rough time against Rangsan Chayanram (16-2). Much like in the Saludar fight, his fighting style got him in serious trouble. Not only the Thai fighter dropped him in the opening round but even when Tanaka returned fire and finished him in the later rounds, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out of the much anticipated unification title bout with Ryoichi Taguchi on New Year’s Eve.
Upon his return to the ring, this time at Flyweight, he outclassed the then unbeaten Ronnie Baldonado (15-2), earning a shot at Sho Kimura (18-3). In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of these exchanges. In the end, the unstoppable prodigy received the majority decision and was crowned a 3 division champion, at only 23 years of age.
As fate would have it, his initial defense would be against the man he was meant to meet back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4). The former WBA & IBF champion looked like an old fighter here, unable to match Tanaka’s speed and power, getting peppered with hooks and jabs on numerous occasions, losing his second world title fight in a row and retiring shortly after. Tanaka marked his second one this past August when he dispatched mandatory challenger Jonathan Gonzalez (22-3), dropping him 4 times with body shots. Looking to close of the year with a bang, he steps into the squared circle one more time, as he takes on a rather dangerous foe coming all the way from China.
Wulan Tuolehazi (13-3) represents a new wave of Chinese boxers, who have quickly risen up in the world rankings and are looking to make an impact. In spite of a few shortcomings at the beginning of his career, he quickly bounced back and even scored a TKO victory over former WBA World champion Ekkawit Songnui (49-7) in less than 3 years into the sport.
Tuolehazi would soon come back to knock out Watana Phenbaan (18-6) with a thunderous overhand right, thus capturing the interim WBO Asia Pacific title. Wasting no time, he’d then face OPBF champion Jayr Raquinel (12-1) with the vacant WBC Silver crown on the line. Tuolehazi withstood the Filipino’s heavy punches, while buying his time, patiently waiting for openings in order to strike back. He finally floored Raquinel with a straight right in the last round, which seemingly came out of nowhere, pretty much sealing the deal and earning him a second championship.
A thrilling encounter took place earlier this year, when he locked horns with Ryota Yamauchi (5-1), this time for the WBA International belt. The Chinese star put together some strong combinations throughout the match, stunning his Japanese rival on multiple occasions and dropping him with a perfectly placed uppercut during the 3rd round. However, the tide would shift in the second half of the fight, after Yamauchi connected with a big punch to the mid-section that hurt the champion. Both men took a lot of punishment, but it was Tuolehazi that walked away with the gold. It’s worth mentioning that both Raquinel and Yamauchi were undefeated prior to these outings.
These past few months, he has defended his belt against former WBC International champion Ardin Diale (35-15) in yet again another very close contest as well as Satoshi Tanaka (7-6), whom he knocked down twice with body shots. Tuolehazi now aims to end 2019 by adding the World championship to his collection of belts, but that might be easier said than done.
Much like in every Tanaka fight, the question remains, will this finally be the time that his recklessness proves to be his undoing? It is well known that Tanaka’s brawling style has put him in dangerous positions, almost costing him 2 title bouts (Saludar and Chayanram) in the past, where he was saved only by his incredible knockout power and hand speed. Tuolehazi needs to exploit that chink in the champion’s armor, if he wants to emerge victorious. His best shot is to wait for Tanaka to go on the offensive and then counter strike with the right, which is his biggest weapon. His high threshold for pain will be put to test more than ever before against a man who loves to attack nonstop.
To conclude with, it’s almost guaranteed that Kosei will be triumphant in this title defense as well, against a seemingly inferior opponent, but then again crazier things have happened in the boxing ring. Either way, we will find out for sure on New Year’s Eve.
Earlier this month we saw the WBC, WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles being fought for in Japan, with some excellent bouts in Saitama. The one missing belt from that show was the WBO belt which will be fought for at on November 30th when WBO champion Zolani Tete (28-3, 21) takes on WBO "interim" champion John Riel Casimero (28-4, 19). On paper this looks a fantastic bout, between two men with very similar records, but very different styles, and very different mentalities, but both men will be looking to state their case as a future opponent for WBSS winner Naoya Inoue.
South African fighter Tete was part of the WBSS when it started in 2018. He struggled in his first bout, a stinker against former amateur standout Mikhail "Misha" Aloyan, before pulling out of his semi final against Nonito Donaire due to an injury. That injury has meant Tete has been out of action for over a year and is more than 2 years removed from his explosive win over Siboniso Gonya. As a result of injury and a couple of poor performances Tete has gone from being one of the top dogs at Bantamweight, to an almost forgotten man and the 31 year old desperately needs an impressive performance.
Stood at 5'9" and fighting out of the Southpaw stance Tete is an awkward Bantamweight. He's all arms and legs and when he's on point he's a real nightmare. He's skilled, tough, quick and a very sharp puncher. His KO win over Paul Butler in 2015 showed just how good he can be. Sadly though he's awkward, and we don't just mean an awkward fighter for opponents. He can, when he's not firing at 100%, be very awkward to watch and safety conscious. He showed that side of himself against Arthur Villanueva and Omar Andres Narvaez, and didn't look much better against Aloyan either, in what really was a stinker.
Whilst Tete is a long, rangy, boxer-puncher Casimero is the opposite. The 30 year old Filipino is a short, relatively wild, puncher-come-slugger. When he's in the mood to box, he can box, but all too often Casimero fights with the intention of taking his opponents, out, and do so quickly. He has scored 6 stoppages in his last 7 bouts, and during his long career he has stopped the likes of Cesar Canchila, Luis Alberto Lazarte, Amnat Ruenroeng and Charlie Edwards. Not only has he been a slugger, but he is also one of the sports best road warriors, with wins all over the place. From Nicaragua to Thailand, from Panama to China, from the UK to the Argentina, Casimero has never shown any fear of being in his opponents back yard.
At 5'4" Casimero is a small Bantamweight, he will be giving away significant size and reach to most fighters in the division. In part that's down to the fact this is actually his 4th weight class, with Casimero having first won a world title at Light Flyweight, before claiming one at Flyweight. He failed to reach the top at Super Flyweight but has managed to make a mark at Bantamweight with his interim title win, and a defense of that title. He has certainly has looked rejuvenated, after a terrible outing against Jonas Sultan back in 2017.
Coming in to the bout the logical view is that Tete will be too quick, too sharp, too long, too quick and too smart. We however feel that the poor performances of Tete recently, added to the injury and time out could end up being a major issue here. Casimero isn't a polished boxer, but he is a puncher, he is aggressive and he is a nightmare for someone with ring rust.
We suspect that Tete will start well, but as the bout goes on Casimero's power punching and pressure will take it's toll as Tete slows down and turns off. We suspect the power of Casimero will eventually break down the South African and take a late win.
Prediction - TKO11 Casimero
Over the last few years the Light Flyweight division has been one of the few divisions which has given us thriller, after thriller, after thriller. The division has so much talent, and has had for years, that the world title bouts we're seeing there have been, for the most part, well matched, exciting and thoroughly entertaining.
This coming Thursday we're expecting another interesting bout in the division as WBO champion Elwin Soto (15-1, 11) defends his belt against unbeaten Filipino challenger Edward Heno (14-0-5, 5). On paper this looks like a delicious match up between hard hitting champion and skilled unbeaten challenger, but how do we expect it to go? And who are Elwin Soto and Edward Heno?
The champion is a 22 year old who really was an unknown until earlier this year, when he upset Angel Acosta for the title. The win over Acosta was a genuine upset, and was also a rather controversial one with the referee jumping in very quickly when Acosta was hurt. The stoppage was one of the worst of the year, and Acosta was furious about it, though the referee's decision can't be held against Soto. Sadly that is one of only 2 notable wins for Soto, who also beaten former IBF Minimumweight champion Mario Rodriguez in 2018. Whilst his competition hasn't been great Soto has shown enough to be very excited about. He's a very hard hitting fighter, who appears to take a shot very well himself, having never been down as a professional. His body punching is excellent and he has power late in the bout with some lovely combinations.
Dubbed "La Pulga" Soto is one of the hidden gems of the Light Flyweight division, and although he has a lot of question still to answer, such as questions over his stamina and his defense, he looks like a brilliant young fighter with a bright future ahead. The one thing that did show up against Acosta was that Soto slowed down a lot in the later rounds, and he got caught a lot but never looked hurt and showed great composure throughout.
Whilst Soto seemingly came out of nowhere to become a world champion Heno has been on the fringes for a couple of years now. He made his debut in 2011, and drew his first 3 bouts, but has really come into his own since 2017. He took the unbeaten record of countryman Cris Ganoza in March 2017, went over to Japan and was robbed of a win over Seita Ogido, before stopping to become the OPBF champion. Since winning the OPBF title Ogido has made 3 defenses, beating former world champion Melito Sabillo, the once touted Jesse Espinas and Japanese veteran Koji Itagaki. Sadly footage of Heno is scarce, despite having a number of bouts streamed at the time, however he is a talented, and smart fighter with a good jab and a intelligent defense. Sadly his lack of power is an issue, especially at world level, however he has the skills to be a nightmare.
Heno is a real natural boxing talent however his lack of power against a bully like Soto could be an issue. Soto won't respect him early on, and could put the Filipino under a lot of early pressure. We suspect Heno will see out the early storm against Soto, but the middle rounds will be incredibly tough for the challenger. If he can survive that then he has the experience over 12 rounds to fight strong down the stretch. It is however, a big ask for Heno to survive those middle rounds.
We'd love to see Heno win, but in reality we think he's up against one of the sports true hidden gems here and this is a huge ask for him. He'll give it a go, but the pressure and power of Soto will be too much.
Prediction TKO8 Soto
This coming Saturday fight fans in Las Vegas will see a legendary Filipino name return to world title action, albeit not the man who made the name famous but instead his grandson.
The legendary name in question is Elorde, best known for the great Gabriel "Flash" Elorde who's grand son Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1, 15) challenges WBO Super Bantamweight champion Emanuel Navarrete (28-1, 24) on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. For the champion this will be his third defense, since winning the title last December, whilst Elorde will be getting his first bout at this level, and will be entering as a huge under-dog.
The Mexican champion had been on the verge of a break out for a while, with those who follow the Latin American scene tipping him as a hugely talented, exciting, and destructive prospect. Last year he got a chance, taking on Isaac Dogboe, and impressed as he out pointed the popular Dogboe over 12 rounds to claim the WBO title. Since then he has really been on a roll, seeing his standing in the sport increase with a stoppage win over Dogboe in a rematch and a quick blow out over Francisco Da Vaca in August.
In the ring Navarrete is a legitimate monster. He's a strong, powerful, hard hitting and rugged Mexican who, at 5'7" is huge for the weight. Although he's an aggressive fighting machine he's actually quite a smart fighter, and not as reckless as he sometimes appears. He gets inside well, with quick footwork and unloads hooks, uppercuts and straights up close. He combines his excellent offensive output with a real rugged toughness and it looks like it's going to take a very, very special fighter to beat him....unless making weight beats him first. In many ways he's a little bit similar to former Welterweight champion Antonio Margarito, and like Margarito he rarely takes a step backwards, so one thing we would like to see, one day, is a fighter really put him on the back foot. Sadly we don't expect to see that here.
At 32 years old Elorde will be getting his first world title fight, and likely his last. Despite the Super Bantamweight division being a low key solid one he is some how ranked #1 by the WBO, who genuinely have awful rankings in the division. To date his best win was his most recent, a very competitive decision over Japan's Shohei Kawashima, a decision that many felt Elorde was fortunate to get. That was his 18th straight win, but one of very few against fighters of any note, with perhaps the next most notable being a 2018 decision win over Lucky Tor Buamas. That's not to say he's a bad fighter, but one who's going from fringe regional level to world class, having only really touched regional title level a couple of times.
Given that the Philippines, alone, has fighters in the division like Albert Pagara, Marlon Tapales, Jeo Santisima and Mark Anthony Geraldo, an argument could be made that Elorde is only the 5th best in his homeland. And he may actually be outside the top 10 best actually competing in Asia, behind the likes of Ryosuke Iwasa, Yusaku Kuga, Shingo Wake, Tomoki Kameda, Hiroaki Teshigawa and Yukinori Oguni.
Although Elorde's #1WBO ranking is a joke he's technically a decent fighter, with a nice jab, nice footwork, nice speed and good understanding of the ring. He's also one of the very few fighters in the division who is a similar height to Navarette. Sadly however "nice" doesn't cut it at world class and even ignoring his flaws, which include a relatively low work rate, poor punch power, he simply doesn't have any world class traits.
Elorde could have made a very solid career fighting at regional level the last few years. Instead he has been moved safely to this shot. A shot that he doesn't deserve, is ill prepared for but will given his all for. Sadly giving his all won't be anywhere near enough against Navarrete. The Mexican might take a round or two to get his engine going but when that happens we expect him to mow through the Filipino challenger.
Prediction - TKO4 Navarette
Right now the Flyweight division, which for years was one of the strongest in the sport, is one of the least interesting. It's a division that is having a transitional period, with great fighters fighting 4lbs lower or 3lbs heavier. There are some sensational fighters at Flyweight, but they are few and far between, with many of the leading contenders are a bit limited. This has left the division with only a handful of excellent bouts at the top whilst we await for the next generation to develop.
Don't get us wrong, the division has some really exciting young talent in it's ranks, but the likes of Junto Nakatani, Nico Hernandez, Ryota Yamauchi, Jesse Rodriguez and Kento Hatanaka are just not ready, yet, to fight at the top.
That leaves us with some sensational champions and some veteran, or limited challengers. The match ups we want, are almost all unification bouts, with little else really being of major interest.
We say all that to pre-face the upcoming WBO Flyweight title bout which will put unbeaten 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (13-0, 7) up against mandatory challenger Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez (22-2-1-1, 13). It's a bout that looks good, but in reality we don't see it as all that competitive.
Tanaka is one of the guys who should be in, or on the verge, of the top 10 pound for pound conversation. He is already a 3 weight world champion at the age of 24 with notable wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura and Ryoichi Taguchi. In just 13 fights he has gone 7-0 (3) at world level, never faced an opponent with a losing record and his last 10 opponents combined had gone 176-11-8. In many ways he is cut from the same cloth as Naoya Inoue and Vasily Lomachenko. He wants to prove himself, and do it as quickly as possible. No messing about, no easy fights.
Sadly Gonzalez is a man who showed a lot of early promise but has yet to deliver on that promise. The 28 year old southpaw turned professional at the age of 19 after an excellent amateur career and would stop his first 6 opponents in 9 combined rounds. Sadly that power hasn't carried up as he's moved through the levels, and only 1 of his last 6 bouts saw him take an early win. His lack of power at the higher level isn't his only issue as he appears to lack in terms of durability, and both of his losses have come by stoppage. The first of those was in 2013, when he was dominated by Giovani Segura with the second with the second being a loss to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016.
What Gonzalez can do well is box. He's a nice, tidy boxer, with decent speed, nice movement and a brilliant arsenal of shots. Sadly though he is rather defensively open, and although he takes a good shot, his defenses fall apart when he's hurt, as we saw repeatedly against Segura. If you let him settle into his rhythm he's hard to unsettle, but at the same time he can be shaken, rather easily.
Boxing with Tanaka is rarely a good idea, he's an amazing boxer himself, with incredible speed, and he's often one, if not 2 or 3, steps ahead of his opponent. He's quick with hands and feet and is heavy handed enough to make incredibly tough world class fighters, even at Flyweight, respect him. His issues come when he faces fighters with big power, like Vic Saludar, not the boxers. Boxers are what he thrives against.
Coming into this we expect the fight to start off interestingly, with both boxing at a decent tempo and using their lightening speed. As the fight goes on however the fight will become more and more one sided, with Tanaka turning the screws in the middle rounds, upping his pace and unleashing his power shots. When that happens we expect to see Gonzalez crumbling, before being stopped, in a flurry of power shots, whilst on the ropes.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO10
The Philippines, seemingly more than anywhere else, has world champions who defend on the road fight after fight. We don't mean world champions who set up a boxing home away from home, but actually get out their passport and head all over the place to fight their world level bouts. The latest of those is WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (19-3, 10), who won the belt in Japan, made his first defense in Japan and will be in action this coming weekend in Puerto Rico, to defend against Wilfredo Mendez (13-1, 5).
The lack of big money in the Philippines has seen fighters like Saludar, John Riel Casimero and Jerwin Ancajas fighting on the road as champions, and in a way it makes their reigns a little more interesting than those fighters who remain a small, but local, star. It obviously increases the risk of them losing a dodgy decision, but also increases their reputation as real world champions, willing to fight around the world.
For fans who have seen Saludar the fear of being robbed on the scorecards does not appear to be a fear that he has. The hard hitting Pinoy he has travelled for 3 fights in the last 4 years, all against men fighting in their residency. In the first of those, in Nagoya against Kosei Tanaka, he almost took Tanaka out early, before being undone by a brutal body shot whilst in the lead. The second saw him dethrone Ryuya Yamanaka in Kobe, with a clear decision, before going to Tokyo to defend against Masataka Taniguchi, and clearly defeat the talented Taniguchi. He refuses to fight like a man who believes he's going to be robbed, and instead he tries to take the fight by the scruff of the neck, combining vicious power, with under-rated technical skills, a high work rate and a real self confidence.
Prior to turning professional Saludar was a highly regarded amateur, who had defeated the likes of Charlie Edwards and Mark Anthony Barriga, and gave Amnat Ruenroeng a really tough bout, in Thailand. Those amateur fundamentals gave Saludar a great base to work on and fantastic experience on the road. His naturally heavy hands make him a nightmare in the ring and whilst he has lost a few times one of those defeats came very early, when he bust his hand, another came to Tanaka, when Tanaka pulled out one of the best shots of his career, whilst the other came to Toto Landero, who went on to give Knockout CP Freshmart a very tough test.
Whilst Saludar is a well regarded name in the sport Mendez really isn't, at least not outside of Latin America. The once beaten 22 year old has fought all 14 pro bouts in the America's, fighting mostly in his native Puerto Rico and on the frankly appalling Dominican boxing scene, with a solitary fight in Colombia. For this coming fight he is at home, with it being his 6th fight in Puerto Rico, where he is currently 5-0 (2). For Mendez this is a huge step up, and comes after multiple fights with Robert Paradero have fallen through. To date his competition has lacked in terms of quality. His sole loss came in the Dominican Republic to Leyman Benavides, a Nicaraguan who had been stopped by Gilberto Parra just 4 months earlier, whilst his best win was a clear one over Janiel Rivera, which saw one judge mis-identity the fighters resulting in a very peculiar split decision. That win over Rivera saw Mendez stepping up to the plate and shining, but Rivera is a long way removed from Saludar.
Stylistically Mendez is a solid looking fighter, who knows how to use the ring, counter and lay traps. He's a smart fighter, who really can box wonderfully on the back foot. Sadly for all the nice touches he has in terms of counters, timing and distance control he does seem to slap his shots, fight negatively and lacks real power. He's skilled, but doesn't appear to really turn his weight into his power shots and instead looks like he slaps a lot. It also appears that his defensive skills look good because of the limited level of competition that he's facing.
Coming into this bout we expect the style of Mendez to appease Saludar. To beat Saludar you can't back off him, you can't let him take the initiative. If that happens he tends to be too good, and builds his confidence through the fight. If Mendez thinks he can win on the ropes, and soaking up pressure from Saludar we suspect he's wrong, very wrong. Sitting on the ropes and letting Saludar throw his heavy, clean, hurtful shots will break a fighter down, and we suspect Mendez gets broken down here.
Mendez looks like he's tough and brave, but the pressure of Saludar will simply be too much over 12 rounds.
Prediction - TKO9 Saludar
The Bantamweight division is currently one of the most interesting, with a host of brilliant match ups to be made, a number that are already on the horizon. Bouts like Naoya Inoue Vs Nonitor Donaire and Nordine Oubaali Vs Takuma Inoue are both fantastic bouts, and with the likes of Zolani Tete, Luis Nery, Liborio Solis, Jason Moloney and Reymart Gaballo all looking for a big fight the division really is red hot.
This coming Saturday the divisional talent overflow is in action as the WBO "interim" champion John Riel Casimero (27-4, 18) defends his belt against Mexican challenger Cesar Ramirez (18-3, 11). Whilst Casimero is the "lesser" of the WBO champions, behind Tete, it's been almost a year since Tete has been in the ring and it's unclear when he will return. The winner of this bout will be waiting for Tete's return to the ring, though by then may have found themselves being upgraded by the WBO.
Casimero won the interim title earlier this year, when he scored a 12th round win over Ricardo Espinoza Franco to become a "3 weight world champion", adding this title to reigns at Light Flyweight and Flyweight. Although the win over Franco wasn't televised footage from it leaked online and it was an enthralling fight, with Casimero finally finishing off Franco in the final round of a bout that was incredibly close. That win was Casimero's second as a fully fledged Flyweight, following a February win over Japanese foe Kenya Yamashita, and in that bout Casimero looked sharp, dangerous and like he really meant business. At times though Casimero has looked uninterested, bored and like he's lacked motivation. When the motivation is there he's fantastic, but he really does need a fire under his ass.
Despite being a rather lazy and frustrating fighter at times Casimero is a real natural talent, and someone who has had to do things the hard way through much of his career. He gained a reputation as a road warrior, fighting in Nicaragua, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Panama, Thailand, China and the UK all in the space of 7 years. Not only was he on the road but he was also in with stiff competition, including Cesar Canchila, Moruti Mthalane, Luiz Alberto Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Amnat Ruenroeng and Charlie Edwards. Not only he a road warrior, but he was a world class fighting, picking up several big wins on the road.
As a fighter Casimero is a clean hitting, sharp boxer-puncher. He's not the most destructive single puncher fighter out there, but he's got that razor sharp power, where he can bust people up with accurate clean shots. He has that solid power in both hands, and his power stays with him late into fights. He's skilled, has good ring IQ but is, as mentioned, lazy and somewhat under-sized for a Bantamweight, but at 30 is a fully grown man, unlike some of the youngsters breaking through the division.
Sadly it's less easy to say much about Ramirez, a man who has done nothing to be in a world title fight, even an interim one, and really will not be given much of a chance coming into this bout. The 31 year old Mexican challenger has been a professional since 2012 and has lacked a win of any real note. Despite that he has shared the ring with some pretty decent fighters, most notably Alejandro Gonzalez Jr and Ryan Burnett, who both clearly beat Ramirez, with Gonzalez stopping him in 6 and Burnett almost shutting him out over 10 rounds.
When looking through Ramirez's record for a win of some kind of note we really struggle, with the best being last year's 12th round TKO over Eliseo Velez. Sadly that sort of says it all, about Ramirez, who has not done anything at all to deserve a shot, with most of his wins so far coming against fighters with losing records.
Although not a total scrub it's still fair to say that Ramirez shouldn't be in a world title fight and will be little more than target practice for Casimero. The Filipino does deserve some easier bouts at home, given all of his big road bouts, but this is a rather pathetic first defense of the interim title. He will have things all his own way, chipping away at Ramirez until the time comes for the referee to save the challenger.
Prediction TKO7 - Casimero
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On June 19, at the Makuhari Messe arena in Japan, a national hero returns home, as Kazuto Ioka goes one on one with Aston Palicte for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight World Championship.
Kazuto Ioka (23-2 / 13 KOs) is without a doubt one of the best Japanese boxers of the last decade. He proved his worth quite early, back in his amateur days, amassing an impressive record of 95 wins in 105 bouts, including two All Japan championships, two Inter-High School titles and four National Sports Festival honors.
Turned pro in 2009, he showcased his amateur pedigree as he dispatched world title contender Takashi Kunishige, in just his third fight. Ioka then went on to win the vacant Japanese Light Flyweight title after he TKOed Masayoshi Segawa, only 18 months after his debut.
On February of 2011, Ioka’s first major test arrived when he challenged the unbeaten Kittipong Jaigrajang (35-0 at the time) for the WBC Strawweight World championship. Jaigrajang was champion for 4 years and had 6 title defenses under his belt. The Japanese hopeful went toe to toe with the veteran Thai champion, even knocking him down as early as in the second round and then once more in the fifth, with a lethal left body blow, sealing the deal and becoming the world champion at only 21 years of age. Ioka defended his championship twice the same year, against Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Veerawut Yuthimitr.
On June 20 of 2012, he was involved in a unification bout with the WBA champion and fellow rising Japanese star, Akira Yaegashi. Their careers shared many similarities. Yaegashi was also an accomplished amateur, with a record of 56-14, and had also won the National Sports Festival, back in 2002. Both men brought their A game that night, knowing what was at stake. An epic back and forth affair, that brought the fans to their feet, ended with Ioka earning the unanimous decision and leaving Osaka with two world championships.
Having conquered the Strawweight division, Ioka decided to move up a weight class and faced Jose Alfredo Rodriguez for the vacant WBA Light Flyweight World title (Regular version). Rodriguez was the former interim WBA champion, with 28 wins and only 1 decision loss. The Japanese prodigy systematically picked him apart with body shots and hooks, dropping him thrice, for the win as well as for his second divisional world title reign.
Ioka enjoyed another long run with the belt, marking 3 successful defenses over Phissanu Chimsunthom, former world champion Ekkawit Songnui and Felix Alvarado (current IBF Light Flyweight World Champion). Since the Roman Gonzalez fight never took place (WBA Super champion) Ioka vacated his title and debuted in the Flyweight division, where he tasted defeat for the first time as a pro, as he failed to capture the IBF title from Amnat Ruenroeng, in a very evenly contested bout. Ironically, Ioka had lost again to Amnat in the past, back in their amateur days, when they met at the semi-finals of the 2008 King's Cup, an annual boxing tournament held in Thailand.
The 2 division world champion came back even more determined, beating Pablo Carrillo and knocking out former interim world champion Jean Piero Perez with a thunderous right straight, within the span of three months, thus earning another opportunity at a Flyweight World Title, this time against the WBA Regular champion, Juan Carlos Reveco. After 12 action packed rounds, the Japanese superstar finally became a 3 division champion. Since the fight was very close on the judges’ scorecards, a rematch was set on New Year’s Eve of 2015. As usual, Ioka’s body work was the key factor, stopping Reveco in the eleventh round, in what otherwise was once again a close call.
As WBA Flyweight World champion, he made five successful title defenses, over the likes of Roberto Domingo Sosa, Juan Carlos Reveco (as mentioned above), Keyvin Lara, Yutthana Kaensa and Nare Yianleang. His toughest one had to be against Kaensa. The interim WBA champion, with a perfect record of 16-0, shocked everyone when he knocked Ioka down, with a fast right counter hook, in the second round. Ioka had never been dropped before in his pro career. Kaensa kept the pressure on for the majority of the fight, giving the champion a bigger challenge than he expected. The tables turned however as Ioka put the Thai boxer down with a liver shot in the seventh round and proceeded to finish him off by punishing his body even further.
His sixth defense was scheduled to take place on December 31st of 2017 but due to getting married and reportedly falling out with his father and promoter, Kazunori Ioka, he chose to retire and vacate his belt.
Almost 17 months later, Ioka returned to active competition, this time at Super Flyweight and with a new goal in mind: to become a 4 division world champion. He immediately challenged McWilliams Arroyo for the WBC Silver Super Flyweight title. Arroyo, much like Ioka, also had an extensive amateur career, winning the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2009 AIBA World Boxing Championships, including victories over 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Yan Bartelemí and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist Nyambayaryn Togstsogt. With no signs of ring-rust, the former multiple time world champion took control of the fight from the opening round and never let up. After 10 rounds and one knockdown in the third, the Japanese superstar was back on track. It’s worth mentioning that this was Ioka’s first fight in the U.S. as well as his first fight outside of Japan, as a pro.
Controversy struck on December 31st of last year, when he met fellow 3 division champion Donnie Nietes for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. After 12 rounds of incredible action, the (split) decision was given to the Filipino fighter, while most fans who watched the match, believed Ioka should have been the victor that night. With Nietes vacating the belt, Ioka gets a second chance to claim that was supposed to be his, but he first has to go through another boxer from the Philippines.
Aston Palicte (25-2-1 / 21 KOs) despite being around almost the same amount of time as Ioka, and even though he has more fights as a pro, a deeper look at his competition suggests that he’s not yet at the same level. He is however a very fast fighter, who knows how to throw good combinations and move around the ring with grace. Palicte likes to keep his distance, creating space with jabs, and then strike with the right. Most of his victories are a result of this strategy. His biggest one thus far has been against former interim WBA Light Flyweight World champion Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in 2017, which was basically a one sided affair. It’s worth mentioning that he also throws strong uppercuts.
On the other hand, he tends to receive a lot of hits throughout his matches, while he finds himself in trouble when his opponent gets too close, which was the case in his encounter with Nietes. The fight itself was declared a draw, but Nietes was the one that landed and connected with way more punches as well as the more accurate ones. Now Palicte has earned himself another opportunity at the gold, after he stopped Jose Martinez (20-0 at the time), to become the #1 contender for the WBO title.
It’s safe to assume Ioka is the clear favorite in this one. Considering that he’s an expert at closing the distance and punishing the body, Palicte will have a tough time defending against him, or even putting any significant offense of his own. This might not end with a KO, as the Filipino is quite resilient, but in case that it does, it will be in the later rounds, probably after the 8th.
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.