A rarity here at Asian boxing as we have a guest writer previewing a bout, and for that we want to say thanks to our good friend Troy for penning this brilliant preview of the up coming Junto Nakatani Vs Giemel Magramo bout, which will take place on November 6th at Korakuen Hall and be shown live on BS NTV and G+.
By Troy Parslow
Old fashioned fine tuning and the quick study:
Redefining the cult, the boxing fan knows plenty of opinion, incredulity, hubris and that loyal grip we close around those trusted fighters. An illusion of discovery tends to feed our particular vices, so perhaps that’s where I find myself when I tell you, in this year of on-again, off-again uncertainty, there isn't a fight I've been anticipating more than Giemel Magramo versus Junto Nakatani.
If the conversation on flyweights due more attention starts with South Africa's Moruti Mthalane, it's with 26 year old Giemel Magramo I might try to end it.
Magramo (24-1, 20) of Paranaque City, Philippines, has the ‘Skull and Bones Family’ heritage of his father, and Manny Pacquiao rival of ten rounds, Melvin, and a host of uncles (Alvin, Ronnie, Ric and Ric Jr) with storied careers. He has the notable form of a sole loss--separated only from a majority draw by a point deducted for an accidental butt--travelling to South Korea to fight their then adopted Muhammad Waseem and a ten round stoppage win, travelling this time to China for their own Wenfeng Ge. But beyond an inherent, steely resolve--the Magramo legacy--or his resume's story, this Magramo is a talent above the rest. This birthright of insatiable aggression can be to the detriment of his performance, still he bears this inconsistency well; with the temperament to reset and refocus, he joins sporadic reckless abandon with an application of genuine pressure fighting skills in a can't-miss combination. By virtue of a father's guidance and slow burn matchmaking, they've nuanced their pressure fighting essence--upper body deception, and technique to manipulate the in-fight into the bargain.
For all he's inherited, 'Pistolero' seeks a family first major championship belt when he fights Japan's 5”7½ southpaw Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15), November 6th, at Tokyo's Korakuen Hall, to fill Kosei Tanaka's WBO flyweight void.
Short of a lower-weight personage—a rare few—himself, recognition is still easier come by for one of boxing’s disciples of a Monster. And it's nothing Nakatani, Kanagawa, hasn't earned. Between his bridging of bulldog to versatile blue-chipper, and frequent US sparring excursions, a readiness to expedite the learning process and realize ambitions unfolding come off him in waves. For my money, among the most rapidly maturing fighters in the sport, it comes as no surprise he’s jumping at a first title opportunity. After all, what’s a championship fight at 22 and 20 fights to the man, then boy, who risked his unblemished rise in harum-scarum shoot-outs with punchers Masamichi Yabuki and Seigo Yuri Akui? He’s since come of age, harnessing leviathan wingspan and spit-shining a tenacity to fight inside that gift of length. Ready as ever, he forged ahead, turning away Mario Andrade, Naoki Mochizuki and Milan Melindo, amongst others.
Is this a fight, then, for old fashioned fine tuning or a quick study?
To understand a Magramo is to expect aggression, and Giemel is good for it. But his ability to weaponise said aggression, and pressure, effectively will come under more scrutiny than ever. At his best, he's moving forward with a proactive upper body movement: shifting his weight over his front foot, rolling his shoulders from side-to-side, drawing leads and making himself difficult to read and counter when he's throwing from different positions. Slipping and countering, he establishes a threat for his level changes and feints at the shoulder. Against China's Ge, Magramo applied this upper body movement busily in the opening rounds, punching at different angles and exploring his timing to help determine the distance and Ge's responses. A probing, sometimes pawing, lead hand often supplements the upper body in gauging distance and triggering a lead he intends to pick off. You'll see Magramo throwing his jab from any shape, and if he's not baiting, he'll use it to disrupt rhythm or break his own: doubling and tripling up (stutter stepping as he goes) and feinting in combination with the right hand or leading with a reverse 1-2. When he has momentum, he'll pick his opponents head up with it and push them back off-balance. Maintaining his own base and shape, of course, is also important for someone looking to push forward consistently and as a rule he is well-balanced, allowing him to slip and counter as he moves in inside or bounces back out.
By no means perfect in his pressure, Magramo isn't the best at cutting off the ring, with opponents often escaping and circling out to their right as he squares up on rear hands or in anticipation of an exchange at short range. This is only compounded when he's already leaning forward (weight over his front foot) and falls in, short of the target and available to be countered out of shape. In this position Magramo will often attempt to restore his balance with a jab, get low and initiate a clinch, or just embrace an exchange. By keeping his front foot in step with his opponent, however, and on-balance to counter off the upper body movement and feints, he closes distance well and can stay in front of his opponent with enough regularity to drive the action and push a pace. It's worth mentioning here how efficiently Magramo passed Michael Bravo's southpaw lead, changing his rhythm, leading with delayed right hands, pawing with his jab and slipping inside at every opportunity.
Taking away Michael Bravo's jab early enough to finish him inside eight rounds is encouraging, but eluding Junto Nakatani's is a different challenge altogether and similarities between the two opponents end not long after acknowledging they share a long southpaw stance. As busy as it is versatile, Nakatani establishes his jab early and sets about conditioning his opponent with his lead hand, adding layers as he goes. Probing and feinting from the get go, he doesn't waste time before he's stepping in, working his man up and down and occupying the opposite guard or lead hand (in a southpaw-orthodox clash, such as we have here)as he lines up a back hand. Taller than all of his opponents at flyweight, he has certain advantages gaining dominant lead hand position and jabbing over orthodox opponents, but in altering the path of his jab over and under an opponent's lead hand, as well as jabbing from different looks and adding foot feints, the timing and positioning of his jab is seldom predictable. Magramo can't, and generally wouldn't, wait for Nakatani to get lazy or fall into a predictable rhythm with his lead hand, so it's on him to draw on the success Naoki Mochizuki had provoking Nakatani's jab with upper body movement and level changes, as a means of slipping and countering his way inside.
True to 'Skull and Bones' form, Magramo is most at home harrying in the pocket. If he can manage the distance, it's inside the jab he's best equipped to take the fight to Nakatani. Here 'Pistolero' looks to instinct, and he counters readily with an innate punch anticipation and reflexes. Catching, parrying, rolling and then countering, he's unforgiving and stylish. On the inside, he typically likes to get low and work up from shovels hooks to the body. For the Nakatani fight, Magramo will likely try to use this low starting position to work under the larger frame, pushing his head into Nakatani's shoulder, comprimising his balance and forcing him upright—something Mochizuki was also able to achieve. Magramo doesn't hesitate in using a shoulder or forearm to set up his offense, or lean on an opponent's shoulder, arching his back, to make room to work the body, and he can exploit the taller man throwing in combination off of his weaving transitions more if he works him into an upright position.
Of course, if you're familiar with Nakatani, you'll know it's not as simple as slipping his jab and dominating the fight. Nakatani, too, is very capable an inside fighter, exceptional for his height and length and he works that large frame underneath shorter opponents with ease. He can't boast some of the acute reflexes of Magramo, but he can control the space, he's strong and he works his arms inside his opponents more regularly, which he'll use to walk them back to the ropes or turn them. Positioning his own head onto a shoulder, and shifting it each side in anticipation or reaction to opposition success, he creates space similarly moving his man around with a shoulder or forearm. More importantly for this fight, though, can be Nakatani's ability to counter off of step backs and punching on the break. A combination of Magramo leaning heavily onto an opponents shoulder, and his neglecting the use of his arms to control them, can leave him unbalanced and available to be countered if an opponent slides on their back foot and simply creates separation stepping back.
Nakatani will be forced to hold his own on the inside routinely, but stepping to Magramo and applying his own pressure might not be to his benefit here. If we learned anything from the rout of Melindo, it'd be that despite his willingness to drive the exchanges, a probing lead hand constant and every physical advantage, controlling range on the front foot doesn't always look like one of his stronger impulses, and his balance suffered for it. Attempting to mirroring his opponents footwork in the early going and losing his shape, he was forced to reset on a few occasions as Melindo escaped relatively unpunished from positions you might expect the opposite. Melindo himself, perhaps, should have penalised these missteps more readily and pulled the trigger upon pivoting into space and finding new angles--you should know Magramo will.
It's at range Nakatani has shown some of his keener footwork: stepping out and to his left against Mochizuki, he was able to creep out of range, manipulate the distance and cause him to reach for counters and fall in. Similar can be said when he's stepping back to counter, and he finds some of his most dominant angles at the end of a jab. I thought he was more effective, or at least consistent, setting traps for Melindo, timing him and scoring off half-steps and step backs as Melindo tried breach the distance. Not only central to disrupting the Magramo rhythm and pressure though, with more space Nakatani's lead can get to work setting up long combinations, where he finishes with wide, arching hooks and uppercuts around and under a guard the jab (and sequent left hands) will narrow.
A great example of the utility of Nakatani's lead hand, and a useful approach to exploiting length in a Magramo fight can be seen in the first 20 second of his fifth round against Mochizuki: circling to his left and jabbing twice at the guard he conditions Mochizuki to expect a third but instantly breaks his rhythm, stepping back around to his right and hooking off the jab; his next jab is feinted, Mochizuki dips to move in underneath but Nakatani anticipates, pushes a couple more jabs at his guard and forces him to reset; stepping back once this time, Nakatani then shifts his weight onto his front foot as if to step in with a jab, Mochizuki bites again and shoots his own over the top, only to be met with a lead hand uppercut as Nakatani slides on his back foot; tying the sequence up, Nakatani bends at the waist, initiates a clinch (securing a right underhook), turns Mochizuki and switches into an orthodox stance as he steps out of the clinch to land an unexpected rear uppercut.
Conclusions and Pick
If picking a winner wasn't hard enough following almost half as many cancelled dates as there now (finally) scheduled rounds, and the spectre of modern overtraining, these two talented, learned first-time challengers don't make it any easier.
One inevitably we can trust is their meeting 'inside' throughout the fight. The fight will go there, but, for me, it's on Nakatani to keep these meetings to a minimum. He won't shut him out on the outside, or by boxing in circles, but in combination with his willingness to call the upper body bluffing, that brilliant lead hand and his ability to anticipate the target and slide into space before Magramo can negotiate his length, I think Nakatani will prove more successful pulling him out of shape and stealing his rhythm off the back foot, circling to his right (avoiding Magramo's sweeping right hand), working check hooks around the guard and moving him onto uppercuts as and when he leans over the front foot. It tends to be when Magramo picks up his feet and chases a fight that we see most of his bad habits, in particular his back foot swinging forward, moving of the wrong foot first and jumping in with both feet off the ground. And besides, any Magramo opponent would surely appreciate the ability to create this separation and score in response to the abrasive pocket fighting. Because as competent as Nakatani is inside, when you have his relative versitility, stepping to the man who can only win the fight at one range might not prove as profitable when that man is good there as Magramo. As the fight goes longer, Nakatani's best bet as the stronger clinch fighter is to limit his in-fighting, almost exclusively, to working his arms into underhooks when Magramo secures an angle inside his jab, pushing him back to break up his offence and then stepping back out to punish him leaning forward or falling asleep in the clinch.
Whilst I consider Nakatani's broad skill set and acknowledge a path to victory, Magramo might have come yet a fight too soon. Having not even experienced a tenth round, perhaps the biggest test of his durability to date will come to the body. Weaker than he is now and less equipped to defend himself, he survived and outlasted Yabuki and Akui chin checks—that's tough. Here, however, he faces an opponent that knows the application of investing in the body and, crucially, if Magramo is to offset length and reach, he won't be passing up any opportunity to isolate a torso so long upon closing the distance. It's hard to imagine the Magramo slip and counter game, established so reliably on that rhythmic upper body, won't afford him enough opportunities to target the Nakatani body and dull him. But whether it's the body attack that slows any movement or Nakatani choosing the hold his feet and contest the pocket, when it heads inside I make Magramo the favourite to win those exchanges if he's not quickly tied up. Sound defensive and spatial instincts make him a dangerous counter (combination) puncher and he can better build on his combinations at short range, where he shifts his weight well and works his opponent up and down. It's crucial Magramo keeps his discipline moving the upper body; that's how he provokes the jab, picks it off and how he stays elusive and dangerous as he moves inside. Nakatani has previously struggled for timing punching down at shorter fighters in the opening spells, which would suggest there's a window for Magramo to get his foot in the door, slipping to the body early. From there, it's just as important he uses technique to control Nakatani on the inside, whether that's disrupting his stance with his head or just positioning him with a forearm or shoulder, creating the space to consistently target the body and outwork him in these areas.
Anxious to make up for lost time, I expect they'll make good on expectations. Tactically fascinating, with both wrestling for control and showing off talented offence in high-level exchanges, a lot of the rounds will be traded at a high pace. Ultimately though, I see Magramo provoking leads, slipping inside and targeting Nakatani's long torso with enough consistency to push the pace, keep the fight in the areas he's more equipped to win the exchanges and subdue the bigger man. Whilst I'm not sure Nakatani is forced into the losing column with a stoppage, I think Magramo does enough to build momentum and consolidate a lead in the second half of a fight that inspires cult followings on both sides.
On September 26th we get treat to a lot of action, coming from all over the globe. The day is one of the most packed of the year for fight fans, with a brilliant card in the US as well as smaller shows in Japan and the UK. One of the many notable bouts during the day will see WBO Bantamweight champion John Riel Casimero (29-4, 20) make his first defense, as he takes on unbeaten challenger Duke Micah (24-0, 19).
As we all know the original plan for 2020 was for Casimero to take on Japanese star Naoya Inoue in a bout to unify the WBO, IBF and WBA "super" titles, moving us to within touching distance of an undisputed champion. Sadly the world hasn't been one for letting plans go ahead in 2020 and after months of trying to get the bout re-arranged the two Asian world champions have gone in different directions.
Casimero will be taking on Micah this coming weekend whilst Inoue will take on Jason Moloney around 5 weeks later.
The 31 year old Casimero is a fighter who has quietly carved out an excellent career, but struggled for recognition. He has done everything a fight fan could ask for, but due to his lack of size has failed to make a mark on the wider boxing world. That's despite claiming world titles at 3 weights, scoring some sensational knockouts, being a road warrior and even surviving a riot in Argentina. He's a man who, on paper, does everything we want from a fighter, and unlike many Asian fighters he does show some cocky arrogance, as we saw with his "Monster Hunter" gimmick earlier in the year.
At his best Casimero is a total nightmare to fight. He's quick, he's sharp, skilled, unorthodox, and hits like a mule. When he's on form he's a beast and his wins over the likes of Cesar Canchila, Luis Alberto Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Amnat Ruenroeng, Charlie Edwards, Ricardo Espinoza Franco and Zolani Tete have seen him put together a very impressive resume. Not only has he been scoring big wins, usually on the road, but his heavy hands have carried up from Light Flyweight to Bantamweight.
Last time out we saw Casimero defeat Zolani Tete in the UK to claim the WBO Bantamweight title, stopping Tete in the 3rd round to dethrone the tricky South African. This will be his first defense of the title and will see him going up another fighter from the African continent as he takes on Micah, from Ghana.
Unlike Casimero it's fair to say that Micah is very much an unknown quantity at world level. The 28 year old has been a professional since 2012 and hasn't really made many in roads in the professional ranks, especially not for a man with 24 bouts to his name.
Prior to turning professional Micah was a solid amateur, competing in the 2012 Olympics. Following those Olympic games he turned professional in Ghana and slowly racked up wins at home, going 15-0 (14) before making his international debut in 2016. For a few years he spent time back and forth between the UK and Ghana before heading off to the US in 2017, where he has fought his last 4 bouts.
Sadly for a fighter with 24 bouts to his name there is a lack of quality on Micah's record. The most notable win on his record are an 8 round decision win over Janiel Rivera, who we recently saw getting taken out in a round by Jesse Rodriguez. That is a big worry here, especially given that Rivera actually dropped Micah.
Sadly there is something of a lack of footage of Micah online, despite the number of fights he's head. From what is out there he looks a powerful fighter, but a rather basic one. A nice long jab, but defensive flaws when he throws it and he can be slow to get his hands back in place after throwing shots. He also appears, in the footage that we've found, to leave his chin in the air when he throws power shots, likely how the much smaller Rivera dropped him.
The one big question when it comes to Casimero is "how motivated is he?" We've seen Casimero stink up the place at times, notably his bout with Jonas Sultan, and if that Casimero comes into the ring here he could have issues with Micah. That however is the only way we see him losing to Micah. In reality Micah's defensively flaws should be a major worry for him, and the speed and power of Casimero will be incredibly punishing.
We see Micah maybe having a round or two of success whilst Casimero gets a read on his man. As soon as Casimero opens up the bout will take on a sense of inevitability and the Filipino will take his man out in the middle rounds, potentially in spectacular form, before calling out some of the top names in the division.
Prediction - KO5 Casimero
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
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.