This coming weekend we'll likely see the end of one of the most personal rivalries in modern day boxing, as Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (57-2-2, 39) and Kazakh icon Gennadiy Golovkin (42-1-1, 37) meet in their third, and likely final, bout. Like the previous two the bout is expected to be a thriller between two incredibly talented, well rounded fighters, with different styles, but the same hunger to prove themselves and the same desire to take home the win over their greatest nemesis.
The two men, who's careers will always be linked, first fought in September 2017, with Golovkin holding 3 of the 4 major world titles. That bout saw the men fight to a much disputed draw, with many feeling that Canelo had been protected from a loss by the judges, especially Adalaide Byrd who some how gave Golovkin just 2 rounds with an awful 118-110 card for Canelo. The two were scheduled to rematch the following May but a failed drugs test by Alvarez saw the bout being pushed back to September 2018 when Canelo controversially defeated Golovkin to claim the WBA and WBC Middleweigjt titles. Since that bout the two men went their separate ways, though it always seemed like a third was, ultimately, in their destiny.
Since losing to Canelo we've seen Golovkin go 4-0 (3), he has looked like he has lost a gear, though still had enough to beat top competition in the form of Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Ryota Murata, and not just reclaim world honours at Middleweight but also unifying the IBF and WBA "super" titles. Canelo on the other hand has gone 7-1 (5). Along the way he claimed the WBO Light Heavyweight title and unified all 4 world titles at Super Middleweight, before losing last time out, at Super Middleweight, to Dmitriy Bivol. That loss was his first since 2013, when he lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr, and much like Mayweather Jr.
For this bout, unlike the other two, the fight will take place at Super Middleweight. The move in weight could be an interesting factor. It's the weight class that has seen Canelo control in recent years, with notable wins over Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant, to secure all 4 titles, but also a weight that he will be dropping back down to, which is rarely an easy task. Likewise for Golovkin the bout will be his first at 168lbs, though he has had catch weight fights above 160lbs early in his career, and it will be very interesting to see what he looks like at the higher weight.
In the ring not a lot needs saying about either man, afterall they have both been fighting at the top level for over a decade and we suspect everyone who follows the sport will have seen a lot of both men. Canbelo is a smooth punching, intelligent pressure fighter, with a good boxing brain, solid power and decent work rate. He isn't the quickest, the most powerful, or the strongest, but he's a smart fighter who has under-rated defense, excellent offense, and lovely combination punching, especially up close. At range he can look poor, and a fighter who keeps him chasing can make him look poor, but his pressure tends to get to fighters, sooner or later. As for Golovkin he's a defensively limited fighter, but someone who has rocks for hands, a very good work rate, a stunning chin, and can land brutal shots to head or body. Sadly Golovkin has slowed down, a lot, from the fighter he once was, and looked only a shadow of himself at times against Murata.
Coming in to this we don't expect to see anything new from the men involved. Aged 40 isn't suddenly going to develop into a defensive master and at 32 Canelo, with 61 fights to his name, we don't expect to see anything new from Canelo either. Saying that we don't expect this fight to fully look like their previous two, which were instant classics. We, sadly, expect Golovkin to again look old. Especially early on, and that will work to Canelo's strength, with Alvarez being an excellent body puncher. It seemed that Murata hurt Golovkin with a body shot in their bout, and Alvarez might not have the single punch power of Murata, but places shots better, is a better combination puncher and is clearly quicker and sharper. With that in mind we expect to see Canelo going to the body early, landing there a lot in the first 3 or 4 rounds, and take gas out of Golovkin's tyres. Later on we expect to see Golovkin begin to show what he can do, but not have the intensity needed to make a major impact, before slowing down again as Canelo gets his second wind and does enough to earn a clear decision, if not a very late stoppage against a tired Golvokin.
Although we do favour Canelo here, we do expect the move up in weight will be a good one for Golovkin, and perhaps something he should have done in 2019, following his loss to Canelo. We can't help but feel his frame would have suited the division well, and bouts against the likes of Callum Smith, Caleb Plant and Billy Joe Saunders would have been interesting for him at 168lbs.
Prediction - UD12 Canelo
Back at the very end of 2018 we saw two legendary Asian fighters face off in Macau, as Donnie Nietes (43-1-6, 23) claimed a career defining win, and picked up the WBO Super Flyweight title, with a controversial and highly disputed win over Kazuto Ioka (28-2, 15) [井岡一翔], to become a 4-weight world champion. Sadly for Nietes poor decision making, and issues involving ALA Gym, saw him fail to build on that victory with Nietes giving up the title rather than defending it and establishing a reign in what was his 4th weight class.
With Nietes giving up the title we then quickly saw Ioka win the title, stopping former Nietes foe Aston Palicte to win the belt, and become a 4-weight champion himself, the first Japanese male to achieve the feat. Since then he has established himself as one of the top fighters at 115lbs, with 4 defenses of the title, whilst Nietes has been left on the outside looking in.
Now aged 40 Nietes looks to repeat his win over Ioka, and reclaim the title he gave up so cheaply in 2019, whilst the 33 year old Ioka looks to avenge one of his two professional losses and continue his reign. For both men the title is key for them to move towards divisional super fights against the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada and Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez. Nor fights however the bout promises to be an excellent show case of ring craft and boxing IQ, between two smart, talented veterans each looking to prove they still have a lot left in the tank.
The talented Ioka was a stand out amateur in Japan before making his professional debut in 2009, aged 20. Within 18 months of his debut he had claimed the Japanese Light Flyweight title and just a fight later he dethroned long reigning WBC Minimumweight champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai, in just his 7th professional bout. In the years that followed he proved that wasn't a fluke victory against a weight drained fighter as he has gone on to unify the WBC and WBA titles at 105lbs, whilst also winning the WBA title at Light Flyweight and Flyweight and the WBO Super Flyweight title. During his career he has already notched up a legendary resume with wins over not only Oleydong but also Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Akira Yaegashi, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo, Aston Palicte, Jeyvier Cintron, Kosei Tanaka and Francisco Rodriguez Jr.
In the ring Ioka is a very clever fighter. He's always been smart and it's been the boxing brain that has allowed him to move through the weights and have success. He's smart, has excellent timing and whilst he's not the biggest, strongest, faster or heaviest handed he has the skills and ring craft to have success against fighters through out the lower classes. He picks shots well, he can take a good shot, and he can mix things up. He can box, he can fight, he can counter puncher and he can pressure, and with Ismael Salas working with him he seems to have brilliant game plans developed for each opponent. Great examples of that can be seen in his recent bouts as we saw him fight as a body attacked orientated pressure fighter against the taller, quicker Jeyvier Cintron and a smart counter puncher against the quicker smaller Kosei Tanaka. Durign his career Ioka has spent more than a decade at the top of the sport, though there has been poor performances from him, and his last two were poor, by his very high standards, though there is a feeling that he simply couldn't get up for those bouts, and as a result wasn't at 100%, this bout however, we expect him at his best.
The 40 year old Donnie Nietes has been a professional since 2003 with the Filipino have had an excellent career, over a prolonged time period. For much of his career he has been the #3 Filipino, behind Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire, and despite being over-shadowed there no doubting he is a future hall of famer himself. He won his first title in 2007, when he claimed the WBO Minimum title, and he would defend the belt 4 times before claiming the WBO title at 108lbs, in 2011. He notched 9 defenses of the title before moving up to Flyweight and winning the IBF title, in 2017, and then moving up to Super Flyweight in 2018, winning the WBO title there in his second shot at the belt. As mentioned though he gave up that title and wasted around 2 and a half years of his career before returning to the ring last year.
Like Ioka, it's best to say that Nietes is an intelligent, smart boxer. He's smooth, relaxed in the ring, and excellent at picking the right shot. His experience, which has seen him facing a veritable who's who of the lower weights, has seen him have success against fighters with a huge mixture of styles, and he can tweak game plans for every style. Defensively he's smart, tight and hard to catch clean. Offensively he's very smart, finding ways to land clean. As he's gotten older he has slowed, and we saw him struggle with the 10 round distance last time out against Norbelto Jimenez, but he still has that world class talent to be a nightmare for many fighters. Sadly though father time is unbeaten in this sport, and given his age we do see this as a huge ask for him. Especially against someone who has taken the upcoming bout personally.
We expect this bout to be fought at a very, very high level. Both men will be adapting on the fly, round by round. We expect to see Nietes make a really good start. For 3 or 4 rounds he will be able to go pretty much evens with Ioka, however we're expecting Ioka to take control in the middle portion of the bout, as Nietes begins to show his age. By round 9 or 10 we expect to see Ioka in a comfortable lead, and we wouldn't be surprised at all to see him really go after Nietes in the championship rounds, trying to not just beat the Filipino, but send him into retirement with his first stoppage loss. Given Ioka has taken this bout personally, we really do see him trying to hurt Nietes, and body shots in the final rounds, could well be the key he needs to stopping the Filipino icon.
Prediction - TKO12 Ioka
The past few years have been incredibly interesting in the Light Flyweight division, without the division managing to get the attention it's deserved. One of the most notable results of recent years was the 2021 upset win scored by Jonathan Gonzalez (25-3-1-1, 14), over Elwin Soto to claim the WBO title. This coming Friday we'll see Gonzalez return to the ring for the first time since that win, as he defends his title against talented Filipino challenger Mark Anthony Barriga (11-1, 2), who gets his second shot at a world title, in Florida.
The 31 year old champion was long seen as a special fighter. He had been a stellar amateur with "Bomba" winning gold at the 2008 Youth World Championships, as well winning the Central American & Caribbean Games Gold, in 2010, and winning the Puerto Rican National championships 3 years in a row, 08, 09 and 10. When he debuted, in 2011 against namesake Jonathan Gonzalez, he was a fresh faced 19 year old and was expected to be groomed to stardom. That certainly seemed to be the case through his first 14 bouts, in which he went 13-0-0-1 (11). Sadly though aged 22 he was pushed to far too fast and came up short against the heavy handed Giovani Segura in 2013 losing in 4 rounds. Sadly it then took him time to rebuild and his next bout of real note saw him come undone, in a notable shock, to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016. That loss could have been the end of him, but instead he seemed to really knuckle down and scored notable wins over Ricardo Rodriguez, Julian Yedras and Juan Alejo Zuniga to get his first world title fight. That bout saw him give Kosei Tanaka absolute hell in a really hotly contested bout, but one that ended when Tanaka stopped him in the 7th round to retain the WBO belt. Since that loss he has gone on to biggest success, beating Saul Juarez, Armando Torres and Soto, to finally live up to the expectation of him one day becoming a world champion.
Early in his career "Bomba" lived up to nickname. He was a destructive fighter, stopping 9 of his first 10 foes, often in the first 2 rounds. He was quick, slippery, heavy handed and that scary explosive quality to him, which combined well with his high level boxing brain and amateur fundamentals. Sadly though as he stepped up it was his chain, not his skills that were letting him down. Since the loss to Alvarez however he has become a smart fighter, taking fewer risks, using his speed and skills more and being less "Bomba" and more "brainy". That change has fared well and earned him the big upset over Soto last year, but it is worth noting that he does have those explosive and heavy hands in his arsenal.
Like Gonzalez big things were long expected of Barriga, who competed at the very highest level in the amateurs, including the Olympics in 2012 and the World Amatuer Championships twice, beating Irish great Paddy Barnes in the 2011 World Championships. He also competed in the WSB, further showing his ability with wins over the likes of Bin Lu, and he got "semi-pro" experience under the AIBA Pro Boxing banner. He finally made his professional debut in 2016 and showed incredibly ability as a pure boxer whilst rising through the ranks, with a notable win in 2017 against Samartlek Kokietgym and one against Gabriel Mendoza in 2018. Sadly however Barriga would come up short in his first world title fight, losing a split decision in LA against Carlos Licona for the IBF Minimumweight title. After that loss he took 2 years out away from the ring, though one of those, 2020, was a year that saw boxing disrupted due to Covid. Since returning he has gone 2-0 (1).
In the ring Barriga is very much a sensational technical boxer. He lacks power and he can't really get opponents respect, but he is slippery as an eel, with fantastic counter punching, a great ring brain, a good work rate and great ability to control range and tempo with his feet and movement. He really is just lacking power, though if he had that he would be very much a nightmare for anyone in and around the lower weights. Technically he might be among the very best pure boxers in the sport today, but that lack of power and the lack of B+/A tier wins doesn't do him any favours and against most of the top fighters in the talent heavy Light Flyweight division he will likely need to do more than just be a sensational boxer.
Going in to this bout we're expecting an all out chess match early on, fought at hyper speed, with the two men boxing using their boxing brains. They will be out thinking each other and both will be looking to set traps, and counter traps. They will both need to get a read on the other, with both being southpaws, and it could be very much be one fo the pursist early on. For Barriga it is vital he marks a mark by the mid-way point, because unfortunately for him he has the fewer tools to turn things around .We suspect Barriga will have the early success, and he needs to. In the second half however Gonzalez will begin to mix things up more, he will begin to be more aggressive, and his power will prove to be a key factor. He might not be the "Bomba" he was touted as, but he's still got plenty of power and we expect to see that power catch the eye of the judges, and be pivotal in the second half of the bout.
After being behind by the mid-way point we expect Gonzalez to take a narrow, potentially split, decision thanks to a gritty and determined charge in the second half of a bout that starts technical but becomes a real fight in the final rounds.
Prediction - SD12 Gonzalez
On April 22nd we'll see WBO Minimumweight champion Masataka Taniguchi (15-3, 10) [谷口将隆] make his first defense, as he takes on the hard hitting Kai Ishizawa (10-1, 9) [石澤開] in a mouth watering match up that promises explosive action. For Taniguchi the bout is a chance for him to build on his big win over Wilfredo Mendez late last year, and notch a second victory over Ishizawa whilst also keeping his title. As for Ishizawa, the bout is about much more than the belt, and for him the contest seems personal as he attempts to avenge the sole defeat on his record. With a bit of history between the two men we expect this to be something of a personal bout, and quite possible one of the real hidden gems for the month.
Of the two men the more accomplished is Taniguchi, clearly. He was a notable Japanese amateur before turning to the professional ranks, and there was a lot of expectations on his shoulders. He, and fellow Watanabe Gym fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi, were seen as the next generation of fighters at the gym, and the men to replace the likes of Takashi Uchiyama, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kohei Kono. Both were rushed to notable fights, but sadly for Taniguchi he would come up short in his bigger bouts, losing against Reiya Konishi, Tsubasa Koura and Vic Saludar. Despite those losses it was clear he was a real talent, who had the tools to go all the way, but just fell short in bouts with the most on the line. Tellingly however he has rebuilt and used those losses to build his hunger, which has resulted in him winning his last 4 bouts, including his victories over Ishizawa in 2019, a win over Hizuki Saso for the Japanese title in 2020 and his win over Mendez last year for the WBO title.
In the ring Taniguchi is a very high level boxer-puncher, with under-rated body punching, good shot selection and an impressive array of technical skills. He's not a huge puncher, or the mot aggressive, the most physically imposing, but he's a very solid boxer, who can do everything, very well without being excellent in any specific area. As a fighter he's proven to have a solid chin, good work rate, a good engine and be willing to dig deep late in bouts. Sadly though whilst he is very good his flaws can be targeted, and his lack of being incredible in any area does leave him with areas where opponents can target him. For example Vic Saludar was too strong, and managed to force Taniguchi to back up a lot, however he will given anyone a tough bout and with his confidence at an all time high, it's fair to say only genuine world class fighters will be able to beat him. He has, after all, improved a lot from his losses.
Aged 25 Kai Ishizawa is a nightmare for the division, as he continues to develop from a young man with terrifying physical strength and power, into a man in his prime years. He is very much a fearsome individual and arguably the most dangerous man in the 105lb weight class. He turned professional without much fan fare, joining the likes of Junto Nakatani at the MT Gym, but quickly started to build a reputation for himself with his power, aggression and eye catching style. Things were boosted when he stopped Tatsuro Nakashima and then claimed the Japanese Youth title with an impressive win over Yuga Inoue. Sadly for Ishizawa his winning run came to an end in 2019 when he was beaten by Taniguchi, though since then he had gone 4-0 (3) and claimed the Japanese national title, with a win over Katsuki Mori this past January.
Unlike many Minimumweights Ishizawa doesn't get into the ring to just win, but instead win inside the distance. By pressing, bullying and pounding his opponents in the pursuit of a stoppage. He typically fights behind a tight, high guard, presses forward, and looks to break opponents down with his physicalpressure, heavy hands and brutal shots. He mixes things up nicely, to head and body, and makes fighters wilt under his pressure. So far only two fighters have survived the distance with him, Taniguchi and Yuni Takada, and coming in to this bout it's clear that Ishizawa doesn't want Taniguchi to repeat the act. He will also have learned form that loss, and will now know that against a fighter liek Taniguchi he really can't wait like he did in the first fight, and instead needs to be more intense, get closer, and let his hands fly more willingly.
As seen in their first bout, there is no denying that Taniguchi is the better boxer. He's more agile, uses straight punches well, picks his shots excellently and is all round a more complete fighter than Ishizawa. He managed to neutralise Ishizawa for stretches in their first bout, and although Ishizawa was always dangerous it was a pretty clear win for Taniguchi.
For things to change here Ishizawa will need to make Taniguchi uncomfortable. He will need to get close, rip the body more, and get his uppercuts off. He will need to push Taniguchi on to the ropes, take his movement away and get to work. If he can do that, he stands a genuine chance of avenging his loss and claiming the WBO title.
Notably though we see Ishizawa again struggling to get into range and get his shots off. What we're expecting is for Taniguchi to keep things long, use his quicker legs early on, take some steam out of Ishizawa in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Hold when he needs to. In the second half a more tired Ishizawa will be slower anyway, and from there Taniguchi should be able to pick, poke and prod his way to either a decision win or a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO12 Taniguchi
Throughout the history of our great sport, the Flyweight division has given his a host of legendary names. The likes of Jimmy Wilde, Pancho Villa, Fidel LaBarba, Midget Wolgast, Benny Lynch, Fighting Harada, Pone Kingpetch, Masao Oba, Miguel Canto, Yuri Arbachakov, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Nonito Donaire, Omar Andres Narvaez and Roman Gonzalez, to name just a few, have etched their names in the annals of the sports all time legends.
Today it's hard to look at the Flyweight division and know which fighter will be the next to add their name among the divisional greats, though a number of fighters certainly seem capable of becoming divisional greats. One such fighter is current WBO champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17), who returns to the ring this coming weekend in pursuit of his second defense of the title, as he takes on Ryota Yamauchi (8-1, 7).
Although a long, long, long way from establishing himself as a legend, the 24 year Nakatani old certainly has the tools and time to make a huge mark on the sport. Despite that he has already made a name for himself as one of the best in the division today, and has down so by gradually building his reputation, rather than being moved rapidly through the ranks like many top current Japanese fighters. He debuted in 2015, aged just 17 and first began to make a name for himself the following year, when he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating future world champion Masamichi Yabuki in the final. In the years that followed he continued to progress, develop, mature and improve, whilst moving towards more notable fights. Along the way he won the Japanese Youth and Japanese national Flyweight titles, as well as scoring a very notable TKO win over Milan Melindo, and in 2020 he finally got a shot at a world title. In that bout he faced off against talented Filipino Giemel Magramo, in what looked like a 50-50 style fight. Despite being well matched on paper Nakatani dominated the contest with a real break out performance, stopping Magramo in 8 rounds, whilst dominating him on both the outside and the inside. Since that win he has defended the belt once, stopping Angel Acosta in his US debut last year in 4 rounds, in a bloody contest that saw Acosta being left a bloodied mess.
In the ring Nakatani is huge for a Flyweight, he's tall, rangy and looks like his body hasn't really started to fill out properly yet. In all honesty he seems like he could end up as high as Super Bantamweight, or even Featherweight, by the time his career is over. Whilst he has shown he can use his size well, with an excellent jab, great straight punches and intelligent hooks, he has also shown he can fight on the inside and be a dog when he needs to be, as seen in his wins over Seigo Yuri Akui, Magramo and Acosta, among others. Aged 24 he is still maturing, still improving, and is already a scary fighter for the other fighters in the Flyweight division, as he seems capable of doing almost everything, and doing it whilst in control of the action. Like all great fighters he switches between head and body at will, controls the tempo of the bout, and can change tactics as and when needed. Although maybe not as slick as IBF champion Sunny Edwards, or as aggressive as WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez, he is arguably the most rounded fighter in the division, and a genuine nightmare for anyone at 112lbs.
Whilst Nakatani has been taken from relative obscurity to world champion by the MT gym, his challenger was something of a notable amateur who has been moved very aggressively by his team, the Kadoebi Boxing Gym. As an amateur Yamauchi went 38-15 (14) in the tough Japanese domestic amateur scene. Despite not having a stellar record, his style was more suited to the professional ranks, and that was seen almost straight away with his aggression and power shots breaking down Lester Abutan and Yota Hori in his second and third professional bouts. In just his fifth professional bout he travelled over to China and faced off with the then world ranked Wulan Tuolehazi, and lost a very competitive bout that saw a bit of home cooking from the 3 "wise men". That bout saw both men being dropped, and was a genuinely brilliant 12 rounder which allowed Yamauchi to prove his stamina, heart, desire and overall ability, even in hostile territory. Since that loss he has gotten back to winning ways, and scored a number of decent wins over the likes of Alphoe Dagayloan, Satoru Todaka and Yuta Nakayama, whilst winning and defending the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title.
Aged 27 Yamauchi is now in his physical prim, he looks mature, strong and powerful, and a lot of his style is based on his physicality and aggression. He has solid foundations from his amateur days, a nice jab, good variety in his shots, and applies constant pressure behind his jab and footwork. Although he does have a great jab, he uses it more to force opponents backwards, and to get inside, where he can go to work, rather than boxing and moving on the backfoot. His shots are heavy, damaging and when he unleashes on the inside he looks genuinely brutal, especially with his left hands to the midsection. At range he has struggled in the past, and against Tuolehazi, the Chinese fighter caught him time and time again with counter left hands, but he has improved since then and is certainly more defensively aware than he used to be. Worryingly for Yamauchi is the fact he's really jumping up in class here. Wins over the likes of Dagayloan and Nakayama are decent, but do not prepare a fighter to face someone who is genuinely world class. Another thing Yamauchi is missing is rounds. he does have a 12 round bout and an 8 rounder under his belt, but on average his bouts have gone just 5 rounds, and he's only gone beyond 6 a total of 3 times.
Having watched both men through their careers so far, we've been fans of both. We've loved watching Nakatani develop in front of our eyes, from a teenager to a national and then world champion, and his development has shown that fighters should take regular steps up in class, and be allowed to show what they are capable of against good fighter. We've also loved to see Yamauchi being moved aggressively and treat like a special fighter in the making. We've also been able to see bother fighters develop their styles and their in ring behaviour. Sadly for Yamauchi however, it does feel like this step up is a significant one, and that his strengths don't play into the very few weaknesses of Nakatani, who has a better jab and is cleaner and more varied on the inside. Yamauchi will certainly have moments, but we feel a lot of his work will come back with interest.
Despite feeling confident Nakatani will have too much, both inside and outside, we do expect this to be fought, mostly, up close, with the two men trading shots, making for a thrilling action bout, until Yamauchi finally has his resistance broken in the second half of the fight. He will give it his all, but eventually have to go out on his shield, having played his part in something of a special and all action bout. We wouldn't be surprised to see Nakatani being once or twice, Yamauchi to be dropped, at least once, and a lot of heavy power shots being thrown in a bout that could over-shadow the huge Middleweight bout between Gennady Golovkin and Ryota Murata, which headlines the card this is on.
Prediction - TKO9 Nakatani
It's fair to say that 2021 has not been the year any of us wanted, expected or needed. It is, much like 2020, a year that will go down as one we want to forget, scrub from history, and never need to repeat. Thankfully it is about to end, and we are about to go in 2022, a year where hopefully normality will resume after a couple of frustrating years.
The last major fight before the end of the year will be held this Friday as Kazuto Ioka (27-2, 15) defends his WBO Super Flyweight title against fellow Japanese fighter Ryoji Fukunaga (15-4, 14), in a bout that was rushed after the emergence of the Omicron variant lead to Japan closing it's borders to international travellers. A change that forced the cancelation of a bout between Ioka and IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas and left the promoters scrambling for a replacement that was already in Japan, something that gave Fukunaga this very, very unexpected shot at the WBO title.
Despite the late opponent change for Ioka it's a bout he needs to take seriously, especially if he wants to land a massive fight in 2022 against the likes of Ancajas, Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. It's also a bout that sees him taking on a supposedly lesser opponent, but someone he knows he can't over-looked, especially after having had 3 successive mandatory title defenses since winning the title in summer 2019. Those mandatories weren't pushovers either, coming against the then unbeaten Jeyvier Cintron, 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka and former unified Minimumweight champion Francisco Rodriguez Jr, who all gave Ioka different types of tests.
The 32 year Japanese champion is one of the major faces of Japanese boxing, and is up there with Naoya Inoue and Ryota Murata as the three most notable Japanese boxers right now. He's been a world champion, on and off, for a over a decade now having first won a world title in February 2011, and has won titles at 105lbs, 108lbs, 112lb and 115lbs and managed to unify titles down at 105lbs. He has a resume that puts him in the mix for a future Hall of Fame place, with wins against the likes of Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Akira Yaegashi, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo, and the aforementioned pairing of Tanaka and Rodriguez Jr.
In the ring Ioka is a brilliant technical boxer, and someone who has proven to be amazingly adaptable. He's a a boxer first and foremost, with spectacular body punching, under-rated speed and movement and respectable power but his really impressive traits are his boxing brain, his timing, his understanding of the ring, and his ability to think his way through tough spots. We've seen him play pressure fighter, as he did against Cintron, we've seen him turn full on counter puncher, as he did against Tanaka and we've seen him put on everything in between. He is a very, very accomplished all rounder, with very few weak areas. There are areas where he doesn't shine, such as his lack of brutal power, but he more than makes up for it in other areas.
As for Fukunaga he is very much a raw fighter, who has achieved a lot despite being completely under-the-radar outside of Japan. He made his debut in 2013 and despite losing 2 of his first 6 bouts he turned things around to win the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year on route to running up a 10-2 (10) record. His 6 fight winning run came to an end in 2018 when he was beaten in back to back fights by Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. Since then however he has gone on a notable run beating Froilan Saludar to win the WBO Asia Pacific title and Kenta Nakagawa, to unify the WBO Asia Pacific title with the OPBF and Japanese titles, and most recent he defended those three titles with a win over Hayate Kaji back in October, in what was actually his first decision win.
At his best Fukunaga has always been a bit of an offensive monster. He is naturally heavy handed, throws a lot of leather, and has damaging combinations. His offense is best defense, and his wins over Saludar and Nakagawa both showed that. He also showed real heart, climbing off the canvas to stop Saludar, and simply breaking down and beating up Nakagawa, in what was a late contender for the 2020 Japanese Fight of the Year. Sadly though aged 35 it does appear his tough bouts are catching up with him and he looked very, very lucky last time out when he barely scraped past Hayate Kaji, in one of the worst decisions in a Japanese ring this year. Kaji out worked, out landed and out boxed Fukunaga, who really shouldn't have got the decision. Had he suffered a loss there however, as he probably should have done, there is no doubt we wouldn't be talking about Fukunaga getting a world title fight. Sadly in that fight he seemed unable to set his feet, he was hurt repeatedly, and the speed and combinations of Kaji got him time and time again. The only saving grace for Fukunaga was his toughness, and the feeling he always had the power to turn things around, but he looked very very slow, clumsy and out of his depth there.
Sadly for Fukunaga the bout with Kaji really does suggest he has no chance here. He was hurt so frequently by Kaji that we have to assume he's shot, or on the verge of being shot. Given how easily Kaji landed single heavy shots and eye catching combinations we can't see how Ioka misses him, and the real question is whether Ioka goes after him, or allows Fukunaga's aggression to be his own downfall. Either way, Ioka hits harder than Kaji and we don't think this will end well for the challenger.
Prediction - TKO7 Ioka
This coming Tuesday the Kokugikan will play host to two world title bouts. One of those is the much anticipated return to a Japanese ring for the Monster Naoya Inoue, the other however is a bout that is getting over-looked, but will likely be a compelling and competitive bout, not something we're expecting of Inoue's contest.
That bout is a WBO Minimumweight mandatory title bout, as defending champion Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6) takes on Masataka Taniguchi (14-3, 9) in a very, very intriguing match up that could help shake up a division that has been disappointing lacking in action the past two years. The bout will be Mendez's third defense since beating Vic Saludar for the title back in August 2019, but his first bout in almost 2 years, with his last one being back in February 2020 against the very limited Gabriel Mendoza. For Taniguchi the bout will be his second world title bout, and he'll be looking to build on a 3 fight winning run at domestic level.
Aged 25 Mendez is one of just two current world champions from Puerto Rico, with the other being Jonathan Gonzalez, and he is really carrying the flag for a country that has such a rich boxing history. He is a talented southpaw, who has been a professional since 2016 and has fought through the Americas, with bouts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Panama. He has also beaten a number of notable names, with two wins over Axel Aragon Vega, who gave Hiroto Kyoguchi a tough test earlier this year, and his career best win over Vic Saludar. He's an awkward, skilled, fast fighter, but one who lacks power and has gotten lucky at home a couple of times, notably in his second bout against Vega back in late 2019. Sadly he has, as mentioned, been inactive recently, and this is set to be his first bout in Asia, two things that could be pivotal here against Taniguchi in Tokyo.
In the ring Mendez, known as "Bimbito" is a southpaw who likes to keep range, makes the most of his jab, and fights at distance, often on the back foot. He's slippery, he has solid defensive skills and a good boxing brain, as well as good size for a fighter at 105lbs. Sadly though he does seem to lack power and conviction in his own arsenal, fiddling away at times, rather than asserting himself. It's worked, mostly, for him so far, but there is a real question mark over whether his tactics would have the same success away from home, where judges are perhaps less likely to give him rounds based on his jab, and somewhat negative movement. He has got nice shots in his arsenal, but all too often he doesn't seem to have the belief to use them, and instead moves and jabs.
Aged 27 Masataka Taniguchi is one of the more talented Minimumweights out there, but also a man who has just fallen short in a number of bouts during his career. He turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi, and the two were pretty much on the same type of trajectory early on with Watanabe Gym viewing the two as future stars of the gym.
Sadly whilst Kyoguchi has gone from strength to strength Taniguchi has had slip ups, such as his 2017 loss to Reiya Konishi, in a bout that as tight and as close as they come with Konishi taking a narrow majority decision. Similarly his second loss was equally as close and competitive, just 7 months later, against Tsubasa Koura. With a modicum of good fortune he could have taken wins in both of those bouts. His third loss, in 2019, was a clear one to Vic Saludar, and showed that whilst he was good, he wasn't good enough at that point to be a world champion. Notably however since that loss he has improved, notably, ans reeled off 3 of his best wins to date, beating Kai Ishizawa, Hizuki Saso and Tatsuro Nakashima, whilst winning and defending the Japanese Minimumweight title. He now seems a more determined, more polished and more compete fighter than ever before and he's learned from his set backs.
In the ring is a boxer-puncher, with an aggressive mindset, a mindset that has really come about following his losses where a little bit more aggression would likely have made a difference. He presses well, and he's intelligent, bringing intelligent pressure into the ring, looking for holes, and then making opponents pay. Although not a concussive puncher, few Minimumweights are, his straight left hand gets respect from opponents and does damage, especially with how clean he lands it. Although an aggressive fighter, he's not a reckless one, instead he's a really deliberate one, and what he throws usually lands on the target. Whilst he is a good offensive fighter, his foot work can be a bit flat, and against Mendez that could be an issue, and his punches, whilst sharp, aren't the quickest.
For Mendez his key to victory is forcing distance, staying away and fighting behind his jab, and moving. Taniguchi on the other hand will be looking to press and pressure the champion, whilst taking his legs away with good body shots. Who ever can control the distance here should win. Sadly for Mendez we suspect his inactivity and the fact he's fighting in Japan, in less than ideal circumstances, will be a major issue. We suspect he'll start well, but as the bout goes on his tank will empty, and when that happens we suspect Taniguchi will come on strong, and eventually get to his man, breaking him down late in the bout.
Prediction - TKO10 Taniguchi
Through 2021 we've seen numerous mandatory title challengers scoring notable upsets and dethroning champions in some of the biggest shocks of the year. That includes one just a few weeks ago, when George Kambosos beat Teofimo Lopez. This coming Saturday there will be a champion looking to avoid the same fate, as Filipino John Riel Casimero (31-4, 21) looks to defend the WBO Bantamweight title against mandatory challenger Paul Butler (33-2, 15).
On paper it's a match up that looks interesting, with the two men have similar looking records, but in reality most see this as a complete and utter mismatch. That's not just us, but also the bookies, and as we're writing this preview, Casimero is a 1/20 favourite, whilst Butler is best priced at 11/1 to score the upset. They are crazy odds, and suggest that in the eyes of the bookies this is a foregone conclusion, and not a bout that should have been mandated by the WBO. Especially not given that Casimero had been talking about a unification bout with WBC champion Nonito Donaire and WBA/IBF champion Naoya Inoue. Both of which would have been much, much more meaningful for the sport, and the division, than this one.
Casimero is a 3-weight world champion and a man who has finally started to get respect in the last couple of years, is an enigmatic fighter with brutal power, lightning speed, and a wild man man mentality in the ring. He's the sort of fighter who can both amazing, and terrible in the same fight, but does, consistently, get big wins, often as the under-dog and often on the road. In fact Casimero is a true road warrior, who has fought all over the globe, and this coming fight see him a stamp from the United Arab Emirates on his passport. Amazingly it'll be the 11th country that Casimero has fought in, a staggering number for fighter!
In the ring Casimero has always been a crude puncher. He is technically a very flawed fighter, but he's someone who uses his flaws to his advantage. He's hard hitting, he's quick, he throws from very unorthodox angles, he's tough and he's aggressive. He does give opponents chances, but he's also able to punish opponents who try to counter him, due to his speed. Sadly he can blow very hot and cold, as we saw in 2017 when he lost to Jonas, but when he's on song he's a monster and has a resume that most fighters would be very jealous off. In his 31 wins he has victories over Cesar Canchila. Luis Albert Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Amnat Ruenroeng, Charlie Edwards, Zolani Tete and Guillermo Rigondeaux, with all those wins coming on the road.
The challenger to Casimero's throne 33 year old Englishman Paul Butler, who was once tipped as a major star for British boxing but hasn't managed to really shine internationally like many expected. He was, for years, built up as a brilliant, slippery, boxer with a bit of spite by those in the UK. On the domestic scene that has, for the most part, been true. Sadly however when Butler has stepped up he's been found wanting. His most notable win to date came in 2014, when he beat Stuart Hall for the IBF Bantamweight title but he failed to defend the title, vacating it just weeks after winning it to move down in weight, to compete at Super Flyweight. The move proved to be a poor one with Butler being stopped in 8 rounds by Zolani Tete in a bout for the IBF Super Flyweight title, in 2015. He would earn another world title fight in 2018, but miss weight, before then boxing dominated by Emmanuel Rodriguez in a bout for the IBF Bantamweight title.
The problem for Butler has always been a simple one, he's not genuine world class. He's very good, but he lacks solid power, he became very negative and although talented there's too many things missing from his boxing to really be a major star. He's sharp, but he's not a particularly big fighter, and he can become very negative at times. Against world class fighters he has really looked a couple of levels below them, with both Tete and Rodrgiuez beating him with ease. And they beat him at his own game, boxing. Agaunst Casimero he's in there with an unorthodox, power puncher, who doesn't mind making things messy when he needs to, and bully fighters around.
Given Butler's lack of power really don't see how he can win here. He won't get Casimero's respect. He won't make Casimero thing twice, and whilst he might take a few rounds early on, there is a sense of inevitability about this contest. At some point one of Casimero's wild, looping left hooks or even loopier right hands will land hard on Butler. We suspect Butler will get up, one thing we can't question is Butler's heart, but he'll then be a sitting duck with Casimero raining down bombs until Butler's either out on the canvas or the referee is forced to interject.
For Casimero, who was last seen beating Rigondeaux in a stinking bout in August, this is a perfect match up for him. He's in there with a challenger who poses no threat at all, and this is a bout for Casimero to look great in, and restart his verbal jousting with the fellow champions. The same champion he should have been facing instead of Butler.
Prediction TKO4 Casimero
On September 10th we'll see WBO Flyweight champion Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16) return to the ring for his first defense, as he takes on Puerto Rican puncher Angel Acosta (22-2, 21) in Tucson, Arizona. The bout will not just serve as Nakatani's first world title defense but will also be his international debut, coming on the same show as Oscar Valdez's bout with Robson Conceicao, and a huge chance for him to show the world exactly what he can do. The bout is a really interesting one, and one that could help Nakatani make a major statement in the sport, or could see Acosta become a 2-weight world champion, with Acosta having previously held the WBO Light Flyweight title.
For those who haven't seen these two men before, or maybe have little interest in watching the little guys unless they are on a card like this, it's worth taking a look at who the two men are, how they fight, and what sort of fighters they are.
Stood at 5'7", and aged just 23, Nakatani is a long, rangy, tall Flyweight. In fact he's among the tallest and longest fighters in the division right now and he certainly has the frame to allow him to move up through the weights. In fact it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fighting as a Featherweight when he matures. He's a youngster who has come through the tough Japanese domestic scene, winning Rookie of the Year in 2016, beating the now world ranked Masamichi Yabuki in the final, before going on to beat the likes of Seigo Yuri Akui, Dexter Alimento and Shun Kosaka before winning the Japanese national title in 2019. Following his title win he has gone on to some solid fighters, including Milan Melindo and Giemel Magramo, who he stopped for the title last November.
Given his physical dimensions it should be no surprise to learn that Nakatani has an excellent jab, and his ability to box and move is fantastic. He mas managed to use his jab as a dominant tool in the past and he really took Milan Melindo apart with it. It's a table setter for him, along with a razor guided straight right hand, and with his good footwork it's a punch that can really control the range and tempo of a bout. Unlike many tall fighters however Nakatani isn't afraid of fighting on the inside when he needs to and has proven to be a fantastic up close, with his body shots in particular being deadly. We suspect he'll have to show that side of his boxing here, but will bee putting himself in harms way to do so. Defensively there is work to be done for Nakatani, but he's certainly not the easiest of guys to hit clean, especially not at range and when he has been tagged he's not looked particularly phased or troubled by anything. And that included going to war with Akui, a huge puncher.
Aged 30 Acosta is a veteran of the sport, and was a notable amateur before turning professional in 2012. Due to his amateur pedigree he was moved into 6 rounders early on, though he rarely needed rounds and stopped his first 16 opponents, including notable fighters like Luis Ceja, Victor Ruiz and Japhet Uutoni, who he beat in a world title eliminator. His winning run came to an end in 2017 when he clashed with Kosei Tanaka, who took a well earned decision over Acosta in a very good fight for the WBO Light Flyweight title. Despite losing to Tanaka we saw Acosta get a second shot at the title when Tanaka moved up to Flyweight and he took that chance, stopping Juan Alejo on the under-card of Miguel Cotto Vs Sadam Ali, and he went on to defend it 3 times, including bouts on DAZN, before losing in controversial fashion to Elwin Soto in 2019. There had been talks of a rematch but Acosta decided to move up in weight and quickly became the mandatory for the WBO Flyweight title, though sadly due to the Covid situation he was forced to wait for his shot, which comes here against Nakatani.
In the ring Acosta is is a heavy handed and aggressive fighter who's busy in the ring, throws plenty of leather but does so with intelligence. He's not a wild, reckless fighter but an intelligent and smart puncher. He mixes his shots up well, he throws solid combinations and is light on his feet. Although his record suggests he's a brutal puncher he isn't. He is however a very solid puncher, who lands a lot and breaks opponents down, and has fantastic finishing instincts. In recent bouts he has started to get more rounds than he did earlier in his career, and can certainly go rounds without any issues, which is always something that's important for a puncher. Notably he's not the hardest man to hit, and he does get sloppy when letting combinations go, but he has the power to make opponents think twice and not take too many risks against him.
We expect this to be a tense bout early on. Nakatani will want to feel out Acosta, see how hard he really hits, and whether Acosta's power really carries up to Flyweight. He'll also want to get the feel for fighting in front of an American crowd. For the first few rounds we expect to see Nakatani playing very safe, using his reach and heigh, and letting Acosta chase him, and do the heavy lifting. As the bout goes on and as Nakatani begins to feel more comfortable we expect this to grow into an inside battle, with the two men taking turns to let shots go up close. When that happens the natural size and youthfulness of Nakatani will begin to dominate and he will begin to grind down the challenger.
We suspect Acosta will give a great account, but will end up being stopped in the later rounds as the pressure and work rate of Nakatani gets too much, and he beats the fight out of the Puerto Rican.
Prediction - TKO10 Nakatani
To kick off the month of September we'll see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) make a third successive mandatory defense of his title, as he takes on Mexican warrior Francisco Rodriguez Jr (34-4-1, 24), in a mouth watering bout that is sadly going under-the-radar. And will sadly be held in front of an empty arena as the affects of Covid19 on Japanese sport continues to take it's toll. On paper the bout is a genuinely excellent one between one of the sports most talented boxers and a thrilling all action warrior, and the styles of the two fighters should gel to provide us with a sensational bout.
For those who have lived under a rock for the last 10 years we do perhaps need to talk about just how good Kazuto Ioka is, and also what's been going on in his life in the last few months.
The highly skilled man from Osaka had boxing in his blood, with his uncle being a multi-time world champion and his father also being a professional fighter. When he made his professional debut, aged 20, he was put on the fast tracked and groomed for success, something that came incredibly quickly. Within 18 months of his debut he beat Masayoshi Segawa to claim the Japanese title at 108lbs. Just a few months later he went on to stop Thailand Oleydong Sithsamerchai, who was then 35-0-1, to claim the WBC Minimumweight title. Soon afterwards Ioka unified the WBC and WBA titles, beating Akira Yaegashi, before moving up the weights and winning titles at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and most recently Super Flyweight. Along the way he has beaten a real who's who of the lower weights, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo and mostly recently Kosei Tanaka. Were it not for Naoya Inoue, and his incredible career, Ioka would be regarded as the king of Japanese right now. Instead he's playing the role of backing singer to The Monster, but wants to change that with bouts against some of the top guys in the sport.
Sadly since beating Kosei Tanaka at the end of 2020 Ioka has been embroiled in a feud with the JBC, who leaked details of a failed drug test. A drug test that suggest Ioka had taken multiple banned substances including marijuana, an illegal drug in Japan. Ioka was later cleared, complete, with revelations that the testing had not followed normal protocol, and was likely tainted and damaged by the fact his sample wasn't frozen and hadn't been kept properly. Later leading the JBC to clear him, and take responsibility. That however will be a very notable sub-story coming into this bout, and there will be a lot of questions about how that may effect Ioka ahead of this bout, his first since that saga.
In the ring Ioka is one of the best fighters on the planet, and deserves a high pound for pound ranking, though maybe just misses out on a top 10 slot. The talented Japanese boxer is a fantastic body puncher, a very intelligent fighter, with good ring craft, and a very versatile tool set. We've seen him box, we've seen him play counter puncher, we've seen him pressure and we've even seen him play the role of a puncher over the years. Again Tanaka he played the role very good counter puncher, neutralising the speed of Tanaka well with his timing and just a fight earlier he pressured Jeyvier Cintron, and used his body shots to neutralise a much bigger, faster man. There are holes in Ioka's game, but they are few and far between, and with Ismael Salas acting as his trainer, a lot of the focus is on understanding his opponent, and building a game plan to beat them. That really is Ioka's biggest strength, his adaptability, and the fact he can be an enigma when he needs to be.
Whilst Ioka is a major player in the sport the same can't be said of Rodriguez, though it did once seem like he was well on his way to being a true star of the lower weights. Like many Mexican fighters he started young, debuting in 2010 at the age if 18, and he reeled off 8 straight wins, 7 by stoppage, to begin his career. In 2012 he suffered his first loss but bounced back quickly and was 14-1 (12) when he got his first real bout of note, against a then 35-0 Roman Gonzalez. Rodriguez put up a fine effort, but was stopped in 7 rounds by Gonzalez. For a young fighter to have given his all against Gonzalez, in Nicaragua no less, this was a loss that showed what Rodriguez had to offer the sport and just 6 months later he went on to stopped WBO Minimumweight champion Merlito Sabillo to claim his first world title. Just 5 months later he went on to defeat Katsunari Takayama in arguably the best fight of 2014, to unify the WBO and IBF titles. At that point in time he looked like one of the hottest young things in world boxing but sadly a move up in weight saw his career hit a snag, suffering an unexpected draw to Jomar Fajardo, and losses to Donnie Nietes and Moises Fuentes. That left him desperately needing to rebuild. And rebuild he has! In fact he's won his last 15 bouts, with 11 stoppages, beating the likes of Ramon Garcia Hirales, Yohei Tobe, Hernan Marquez, Oswaldo Novoa and Martin Tecuapetla during that run.
In the ring Rodriguez isn't a smart fighter. He's not an intelligent boxer, or a crafty counter puncher. Instead he's a pretty intense, in your face, aggressive warrior, coming to have a fight. Although not a huge puncher in terms of 1-shot power, Rodriguez is a brute, his pressure, work rate and tenacity often being too much for opponents Watching him we see a fighter who isn't technical, he isn't accurate, and he's not the most natural of boxers. But he is a fighter, who lets combinations go, uses head movement and does a very under-rated jab, which he uses well to dictate moments. At his best however he's a warrior on the inside, through uppercuts, hooks and switching his attack between head and body. He's developed more as a boxer, rather than a bully, over the years, but is still at his best as a bully with grinding pressure.
Whilst Rodriguez has tried boxing more in recent years we don't see him applying that approach here. He would come off second best for almost every second of every round. Boxing a master boxer like Ioka is not a good idea, unless you are also a master technician. Instead we expect to see Rodriguez trying to apply pressure, and make this a tear up on the inside. Although it's not in Ioka's best interest to fight that type of fight, we do expect the Japanese star to hold his feet a lot and make this into a tear up for the TV viewers.
Sadly with no fans in attendance we don't expect this to feel like a world title fight, but we do imagine a lot of excitement, and it'll be a fight we wish had fans in the venue.
After 12 rounds we're expecting a wide and clear win for Ioka, though we do expect him to have a lot of questions asked of him, and for Rodriguez to show no quit at all. The Mexican will be there from the opening bell to the final seconds, and he'll be putting in an honest shift, but coming up short.
Prediction - UD12 Ioka
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.