The growth of the DAZN service as a distribution network for boxing is still something of a work in progress, and there are still a lot of areas where the service needs to improve, with the commentary being one of the most notable. Despite that the service has been fantastic for a number of reasons, and one of those is the fact the service seems to have taken a very clear interest in picking up fighters from the lower weight classes. In the last 12 months alone we have seen 3 of the 4 Light Flyweight world champions compete on the service and that is something that we didn't expect to see, but something we're really happy about. Finally a major outlet is shining a light on one of the most over-looked divisions in the sport.
DAZN's foray into the Light Flyweight division saw IBF champion Felix Alvarado beat the fight out of Deejay Kriel in January and saw WBA "Super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi defeat Axel Aragon Vega in a brilliant tear up in March. On May 8th we get the chance to see another champion, this time WBO champion Elwin Soto (18-1, 12) in action as he takes on Japanese veteran Katsunari Takayama (32-8-0-1, 12). Like the two other two recent bouts in the division this could end up being a really brutal and thrilling bout between two men at very different stages of their careers.
Of the two men American audiences will likely be more familiar with Soto, especially newer fans to the sport. Soto won his WBO title on American soil when he stopped Angel Acosta, in his US debut, and has since defended the title twice, both in the US, with decision wins over Edward Heno and Carlos Buitrago. In his title win he looked talented, but flawed, and was struggling with stamina late in the bout, until hurting Acosta, who had been dropped in round 3, and forcing a controversial 12th round finish. Since then he has again looked more like a youngster who is growing into being a champion, rather than someone close to being the complete product, with both of his defenses leaving plenty to be desired. And whilst that sounds negative, the reality is that Soto seems like the sort of fighter who maybe won a world title before he was really ready for it, and needs to take another year or two to mature into the fighter he will become.
Although not the complete article yet Soto is still a monster. He's got huge power, an impressive chin, an an economical style. He presses forward, he's strong and tough and is still really rounding off his boxing skillset fight by fight. Although still improving Soto is slow of foot, sometimes a bit too methodical, and happy to come forward behind a tight guard rather than letting shots fly. A very stark comparison to the likes of Kyoguchi and Alvarado. He looks easier to outbox than the other two, due to not working as much, but is just as dangerous and strong as the other two, and arguably has the biggest upside given his young age.
Although we have been impressed by Soto at times, it is worth noting that faltering Carlos Buitrago ran him a lot closer than the scores cards suggest, and Edward Heno also gave him a very tough bout. He's the type of fighter who, against someone with a lot of quick movement will struggle to shine.
If you're a long term fan of the lower weights Katsunari Takayama needs no introduction at all. However it's fair to say that most fight fans aren't long term watches of the lowest weights and have sadly missed out on the career of the "Lighting Kid" who is now edging towards his 38th birthday and is not the fighter he used to be. At his best he was a whirring dervish of activity, willing to skip around the ring, let shots go in bunches, and use a lot of in and out movement, without too much worry of what was coming his way. He had a brilliant chin and could rely on it when he needed to, and was able to stand and trade when he wanted. His style made for some brilliant bouts against the likes of Yutaka Niida, Francisco Rodrgiuez Jr, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Jose Argumedo among others. He was also a serial belt collector winning the WBC, the WBA interim title and the WBO and IBF titles, twice. All at Minimumweight. Sadly it's hard to know just how good he is going to be at Light Flyweight.
The bigger issue for Takayama isn't so much the move up in weight, he did fight at Light Flyweight early in his career, but instead his skin. During his career the accumulated punishment has left his skin very paper like, and he has been cut numerous times during the later part of his career. In fact 3 of his last 5 bouts have ended via technical decision, dating back more than 5 years. Aged 37, moving up in weight, with paper skin, taking on a big puncher, things don't look good for Takayama.
Saying all that however Takayama hasn't taken much punishment recently. In 2016 he retired before chasing a place at the Olympics. He failed in his pursuit for a Tokyo 2020 place and returned to professional boxing last year, putting on a brilliant performance against former 2-time world challenger, at Light Flyweight, Reiya Konishi. That bout showed that Takayama still has his legs and output to go, at least for 6 rounds, though of course it's a very different proposition over 12 rounds against a big puncher like Soto.
At his best Takayama would have been a stylistic nightmare for Soto. His non stop movement, ability to take a shot and high output would have been a very tough assignment for a man like Soto, who is powerful but low activity and slow of foot. This current version of Takayama however is a very different kettle of fish, and we're really not sure if Takayama's face can hold hold up or whether his legs can go 12 rounds.
We would genuine love to see Takayama win. It would be one final chapter in a career that has been amazing to follow and really seen him tread a track rarely seen by a Japanese fighter, as he actively pursued IBF and WBO titles. The reality however is that father time and a long career has probably left Takayama with only a slim chance here.
Our expectation is that Takayama starts well, uses his feet, and stops Soto from getting set, and getting his shots off. Using a tactic similar to what Carlos Buitrago did, but busier. As the fight goes on however the power and physical strength of Soto will take over and Mexican will leave Takayama busted open and force the doctor to wave off the bout.
The real question, for us, is what will cause those cuts, and when will the bout be stopped? Takayama has been involved in head clashes and if one of those occurs it would be a surprise, at all, to see a technical decision here. On the other hand Soto is a big puncher and there's a real chance that his punches will bust up Takayama and force a stoppage.
Prior to the end we expect Takayama to set a high pace, at least early on, and force Soto to fight at a much higher tempo than usual. We expect a lot of leather to be thrown here and for the bout to be, yet another, fantastic Light Flyweight action bout. Expect regular exchanges, with Soto landing the heavier blows and Takayama landing at a high volume. Sadly though it's hard to see the bout ending in any other way, other than Takayama wearing a crimson mask.
For gamblers out there, Takayama by technical decision might be worth a shot, but a slim one. For everyone else, the obvious outcome is Soto by TKO, and that's the one we'll be picking.
Prediction - TKO9 Soto (cuts)
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
Whilst boxing tends to be associated with weekends in Japan no day is off limits and this coming Wednesday proves that with a mouth watering double header in Osaka. One of those bouts will see WBO Light Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka (9-0, 5) [田中恒成] defending his title against once beaten Thai challenger Palangpol CP Freshmart (14-1, 8) [คู่เอก พลังพล ซีพีเฟรชมาร์ท] in what looks like a solid bout on paper.
The champion won the title last year, when he closed out the year with a destructive and one-sided beat down of Moises Fuentes, stopping the Mexican in the 5th round of a bout that really looked like a show case. In his first defense of the belt Tanaka defeated hard hitting Puerto Rican Angel Acosta, taking a comfortably decision despite having some early issues with the visitor.
Prior to becoming the Light Flyweight champion Tanaka had had a short reign as the OPBF, and WBO Minmumweight champion and had racked up impressive wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras and Vic Saludar, showing he could box, brawl, fight and grit it out in those bouts. Since moving up however he's looked more relaxed and has rounded off some of his defense flaws, whilst keeping his insane speed.
In the ring Tanaka is still a diamond in the rough, despite being a 2-weight champion, but has the natural speed, and explosiveness to make up for the rough edges. Against a really intelligent fighter his flaws come be exposed more, but the truth is that that only Vic Saludar and Ryuji Hara have really had success against him, and he's looked a much stronger fighter since moving up to Light Flyweight. He's looking to prove that later this year, with a lot of talking of a bout against WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi, but will obviously need to be successful later this coming week to get that long awaited unification bout.
Whilst Tanaka is well known, and is 4-0 (2) in world title bouts, the same cannot be said of Palangpol who is really only known in Thailand, despite having made his boxing debut in Japan and impressing, despite coming up short. Although he's a bit of a boxing novice he is a former standout Muay Thai fighter, and was a genuine star in "the art of eight limbs". It was that experience that helped him to claim some small regional titles and take on the likes of Koji Itagaki, Heri Amol and Donny Mabao very early in his career.
In the ring Palangpol is a patient fighter, he looks for his openings with aggressive footwork and although he still has the hall marks of a Muay Thai fighter who has turned to boxing he boasts very heavy hands and good timing on his counter straight right. Given his Muay Thai background it's little wonder that he looks relaxed in the ring, though sometimes that relaxed nature shows in his shots and although naturally heavy handed he has been seen to push shots. This will give opponents counter opportunities, an against a quick and smart fighter like Tanaka this could prove to be a really big problem.
The Thai won't have travelled to lie down, and is certainly a very good fighter, but it does seem like his Muay Thai flaws will be picked apart by Tanaka. As a Muay Thai fighter Palangpol is great but as a boxer his fluidity and stance aren't quite right and although he has serious power, especially in his body shots, it's hard to imagine him landing much clean on Tanaka. Instead we suspect the Japanese fighter will use his incredible speed and movement to tag the Thai until Palangpol is eventually stopped, somewhere in the middle rounds.
At the end of 2016 Japanese youngster Kosei Tanaka (8-0, 5) became a 2-weight world champion, claiming the WBO Light Flyweight title in just his 8th bout, at the age of 21. The youngster returns to the ring this coming Saturday as he takes on monstrously hard hitting mandatory challenger Angel Acosta (16-0, 16), from Puerto Rico. A win for Tanaka would open doors, later in the year, to all Japanese world title unification bouts and would see him further enhance his already impressive standing in the sport. On the other hand however a win for Acosta would end the current barren run for Puerto Rico, which amazingly boasts no current world champions.
The Japanese youngster turned professional back in November 2013, aged 18, and had a lot of expectations on his shoulders, with his team talking about him as someone with the ability to race through the ranks. It turned out his team weren't all talk, and in just his 4th fight he took on the then 18-0 Ryuji Hara, stopping Hara for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Just a fight later he won the WBO Minimumweight title, setting a Japanese record and after one defense he jumped up in weight. After just 37 months as a professional Tanaka won his second world title, claiming the WBO Light Flyweight title.
In the ring Tanaka is a lighting quick fighter. His feet are incredibly quick and his hands are even quicker. It's those quick hands that allow him to throw some of the sweetest looking combinations in the sport and allows him to get his shots off before opponents can react. He can control the range with either his feet or hands and when he's on song he looks like a very special fighter.
At his best Tanaka is one of the best offensive fighters in the sport. Sadly what he lacks is a consistent defense and that was notable seen against both Hara and against Vic Saludar, in Tanaka's only world title defense. He was dropped, and bullied, by Saludar in what was the worst performance of his career so far. Although Tanaka was poor against Saludar he did seem to put that, at least partly, down to making weight and the move has seen him look much, much better with some added power as well as a more durable look.
Whilst the champion will be in his 4th world title bout the challenger will be in his first, and will be looking to continue his impressive stoppage run. That run began in November 2012, when the then then 22 year old Acosta stopped Alexis Diaz in 3 rounds, and has continued through to now, with the latest stoppage being a 10th round TKO over Japhet Uutoni in a world title eliminator.
Acosta has scored wins in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the USA. During those wins he has rarely gone more than 6 rounds and has faced mostly questionable opposition. Despite the poor competition Acosta has claimed the WBC FECARBOX and WBO Latino Light Flyweight titles. The most notable of his wins have been over Victor Ruiz, Juan Guzman, Luis Ceja and the aforementioned Uutoni.
Acosta is an out-and-out fighter with an aggressive mentality, despite that he can box on the back foot and has been seen landing some sensational counter shots, with his counter left hook looking particularly potent. He also seems to have nice speed, a wonderful variety of shots and they all seem to have nasty spite on them. It should be noted however that Acosta does look defensively open, and it looks like he makes a number of flaws, with his chin often in the air and he often leans straight backwards.
On paper this is a boxer against a puncher, but the reality is that both men are more than that. Tanaka is boxer-puncher, who can brawl when he needs to and has such incredible speed that his combinations are just a thing of beauty. Acosta is a puncher, but can also brawl, and has more than enough nous to his boxing to be able to box with good fighters. With that in mind this really is an intriguing match up, and one that could go either way. When put under pressure Tanaka looked comfortable, and Acosta will look to force himself on he Japanese fighter. Despite that we think Tanaka's speed will be the difference and he will counter, out manoeuvrer and out land Acosta, who will have real highlight moments, but not quite enough to wear down the Japanese youngster, who will do enough to take a very competitive decision.
The first of 5 world title fights on December 31st will see former WBO Minimumweight champions face off in an attempt to become the new WBO Light Flyweight champion. The fighters in question are Japanese youngster Kosei Tanaka (7-0, 4) and experienced Mexican Moises Fuentes (24-2-1, 13), who is also a former WBO “interim” Light Flyweight champion who is looking to claim this title at the third time of asking.
Of the two men the Mexican visitor is probably the more well known. He's a man who has been a professional since 2007 and has gradually moved through the ranks. He claimed his first title back in 2010, the “interim” WBC Youth Minimumweight title, before upsetting Raul Garcia in 2011 for the WBO Minimumweight crown. As the champion Fuentes defended the belt twice, beating Julio Cesar Felix and the brilliant but faded Ivan Calderon. Following those wins he moved his attention to 108lbs and began his campaign there with a draw against the then WBO champion Donnie Nietes.
Following the draw to Nietes we saw Fuentes remain in the mix and quickly claim the “interim” title before getting a rematch with Nietes in 2014, a rematch that saw Fuentes suffer a 9th round KO loss to the brilliant Filipino. Since that loss Fuentes has strung together some solid victories over he likes of Oswaldo Novoa, Francisco Rodriguez Jr and Rommel Asenjo to put himself into another shot for the Light Flyweight title.
At his best Fuentes is a big, aggressive, hard working fighter who combines a high level of aggressive output with under-rated skills. His most notable aggressive work is aimed at the body of opponents and in his first fight with Nietes it seemed that that body attack took a lot out of the Filipino, though in the rematch Nietes managed to move and counter more effectively and broke down Fuentes. Whilst Fuentes is a big, tough and aggressive fighter he is also a fighter who has had a long and hard career with 157 rounds under his belt and the 31 year old has had some very hard and damaging bouts.
Whilst less well known to wider boxing fans Tanaka is a fighter who is well known in Japanese boxing circles. He was a former amateur standout and one of the many to make his name on the High School scene as a teenager. That amateur pedigree saw his signature being one that promoters chased for when he decided to turn professional, eventually signing with former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka. Together they set some incredible goals and raced off to them double quickly. That saw Tanaka claiming the OPBF title in his 4th fight, stopping the then 18-0 Ryuji Hara, and the WBO Minimumweight title in Tanaka's 5th professional bout, out pointing Julian Yedras.
Despite the champion at 105lbs Tanaka was struggling to make weight and that became clear in his first defense, when he was dropped by Vic Saludar before gritting his teeth and stopping Saludar in the 6th round, whilst well behind on the score cards. It was a genuine gutcheck for Tanaka and one he passed, whilst also making it clear that he wasn't going to stick around any longer at 105lbs. Instead he moved up in weight and scored a dominant win over Rene Patilano back in May to announce himself at a higher weight.
At his best Tanaka is one of the sports most exciting youngsters. He's lightning quick with his hands and has some of the best combination punching in the sport, he's light on his feet, well schooled and has under-rated power. Sadly though he can be bullied, as seen in the Saludar fight, he can also switch off at times, as he did against Yedras, and his defense can fall apart a bit too easily. Offensively he is great but that offensive may only carry him so far before his defensive issues cost him, and that could well happen at 108lbs against a tough and aggressive fighter like Fuentes.
Coming in to this bout Tanaka is the clear betting favourite however we suspect he will be pushed all the way here in what will be a very tough and exciting bout. Fuentes' aggressiveness will be hard for Tanaka to deal with but given how Nietes beat Fuentes we suspect Tanaka will have a game plan based on countering, movement and speed. If he can counter Fuentes and force the Mexican to make mistakes he should come out on top, but will be given another serious test by a very determined visitor.
The boxing world is full of undeserving world champions, getting the press and plaudits due to reaching “a” summit, often for a short amount of time. Fighters like Charles Martin, Oswaldo Novoa, Jose Argumedo and Giovanni De Carolis have all had the honour of being a “world champion” recently, and yet non of them are particularly well proven, or , in the case of Novoa and Martin, managed to keep their titles for particularly long.
Along with those undeserving champions are the deserving champions, the fighters who take on all challengers, defend their belts for years and sadly get over-looked by the press and general fan base. One such fighter is Filipino icon Donnie Nietes (37-1-4, 21), who is a 2-weight world champion, with a stellar record, a splattering of impressive wins, an 11 year unbeaten run and an incredible 13-0-1 (5) record in world title fights.
Nietes, the current WBO Light Flyweight champion, returns to the ring this coming Saturday as he looks to extend that run and record yet another successful defense as he takes on former world champion Raul Garcia (38-3-1, 23).
Interestingly whilst the fight could see Nietes extend his world title reign it is a fighter that sees Garcia entering the bout looking for revenge, as Nietes holds a win over Raul's twin brother Ramon Garcia-Hirales.
At his best Nietes is a wonderful chameleon in the ring. He can box, he can fight and he can be a cerebral counter puncher, and more impressively he can switch between the styles fluidly during a fight.
Trying to explain how good Nietes is, to those who haven't seen him, is really difficult. However going though his record we see wins over the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, who was then 20-0, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Sammy Gutierrez, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Vargas and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. The names might not mean a lot to those who don't follow the lower weights but the fighters are solid world class fighters, though some were beyond their best.
As for Garcia the Mexican is a veteran in the ring, and like Nietes, is a battle hardened warrior, with wins over Florante Condes and Sammy Gutierrez. Sadly whilst he is a veteran the last few years has seen him meandering through regional level opposition. In fact his last 5 bouts, dating back more than 3 years, have seen him face completely inept opposition. Go back a fight further we saw him come up short against Pedro Guevara, albeit in a very close fight. Incidentally two, of Garcia's 3 losses, have been close with one to Moises Fuentes seeing the two men being separated by just 2 points on all 3 cards.
At his best Garcia is a real handful, for anyone, in the division. He's tough, heavy handed, and combines physical strength with solid skills. That's not to say he's a sensational fighter but certainly a handful for anyone. Unfortunately we suspect he's far removed from his best and will instead be made to look second rate by Nietes, who will continue to be one of the sports most over-looked and under-rated world champions.
It's fair to say that we have a lot of really good bouts through out October, with a number of world title bouts looking really good on paper. Sadly however one one of those titles bouts sticks out like a sore thumb in terms of being genuinely disappointing. That's the WBO Light Flyweight title bout between long term champion Donnie Nietes (36-1-4, 21) and the relatively unknown Juan Alejo (21-3, 13). The bout, Nietes's US debut, is clearly to allow the champion to make a statement to US fans who may not have yet seen him in action.
For many fans Alejo is a real unknown, even for fans of the lower weights. Sadly his record, or rather his opposition, is the reason he's so unknown, and why we certainly see this a very disappointing mismatch.
Alejo began his career 0-3, those 3 bouts came against his most notable opposition with one loss coming to world title contender Jose Cabrera and the other two against one time Roman Gonzalez foe Jesus Limones.
Since those 3 bouts Alejo has run up 21 straight wins but the competition has been dire with the most notable name on his record by Jesus Faro, who was easily beaten by Yu Kimura just a few weeks ago. Sadly that level of competition really hasn't qualified, or prepared, Alejo for a world title bout, especially not against a genuine world champion like Nietes.
Sadly for us Alejo's low level of competition has made it very difficult to track down footage of the Mexican. From his record it seems like he can punch a bit but digging deeper into his opponents even his power seems questionable. In one way the lack of footage may help Alejo, with Nietes's team perhaps struggling to get a good read on the Mexican. The reality however is that footage of him being scarce isn't a positive sign of his ability and that probably tells a story of it's own.
Whilst we know little in regards to Alejo we do know a lot about Nietes with the defending champion being one of the staples of the lower weights divisions. In fact Nietes has been a world champion for 8 years across the Minimumweight and Light Flyweight divisions. His run at world level has seen him go 13-0-1, avenging the draw with a stoppage win in a rematch.
Nietes's record tells us a lot about how good he is. His one loss, to Angky Angkotta, is a very disputed and controversial one from back in 2004 and since then he has gone 25-0-3 with wins against the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Felipe Salguero, Sammy Gutierrez, Moises Fuentes and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. That might not be the sort of record needed to get into the HOF but it is a very strong resume from a man who has been the forgotten staple of the Filipino boxing scene.
In the ring there is very little Nietes can't do. Naturally he's a very confident counter-puncher, one of the best in the lower weights. Despite being an incredible counter puncher he can fight as an all round boxer and has shown an increasing belief in his punch power, in fact he's stopped 4 of his last 5 foes something that's very different to what the numbers of his record would suggest. He's not perfect but he doesn't do a lot of things wrong and it's hard to see anyone at 108lbs being favoured over him. Saying that however he is 33, and getting on for a lower weight fighter.
Given what we do know Nietes is more proven, he is in great form and looking to impress an audience that may not yet have been won over by him. He will also be hoping to make a statement ahead of a potential show down with Roman Gonzalez, who fights Brian Viloria on the same night. With that in mind we're expecting to see Nietes do a demolition job on Alejo who has been deliberately selected to make a statement again, and is unlikely to last more than 6 rounds.
The first “big” Filipino fight for us this month comes at Light Flyweight where WBO champion Donnie Nietes (35-1-4, 21) defends his belt against mandatory challenger Francisco Rodriguez Jr (17-2-1, 11). Whilst this is a mandatory title fight it is also one of the very best bouts that could be made at Light Flyweight, a division that has often been over-looked.
Nietes has been one of the most impressive lower-weight fighters over the last few years. He first became a world champion back in September 2007, at Minimumweight, and has held a world title every since. On paper his record is impressive with just a single, controversial, loss in 40 fights and in reality he's proven he can cope with anyone.
There are some who will suggest that Neites' competition has been poor over the years but wins over the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre and Moises Fuentes are solid wins.
In the ring Nietes can do it all and has evolved over he years. At his best he's a phenomenal counter puncher who can stand in the pocket, land laser like shots and make opponents pay for every mistake. At other times he's a frustrating guy to watch, who relies on his natural ability and sleep walks through fights, as he did in his first meeting with Moises Fuentes. In recent times he's not only been a sharp counter puncher but he's been one who has been making statements with 4 successive stoppages against decent Mexican opponents.
A big question regarding Nietes, and one of the few that will linger over his head going in to the future, is his age. He's already 33 and with 40 bouts, 274 rounds, on the clock he may find himself getting old over-night. He's not shown his age yet but we know fighters in the lower weights do age suddenly and Nietes may go from ultra-sharp to “on the slide” almost in a single fight.
As for for the challenger, Rodriguez will be looking to build on a sensational 2014. He came from absolutely nowhere to be in the running for the hardcore fans Fighter of the Year as he unified both the WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles in stunning back-to-back performances and, were it not for a draw against Jomar Fajardo we'd have had no complaints with anyone voting for Rodriguez. The year saw him fight 4 times though he first came to our attention when he battered Merlito Sabillo to claim the WBO Minimumweight title just a few months later he over-came Katsunari Takayama to add the IBF title to his collection, in a bout later dubbed by many as the 2014 FOTY.
In the ring Rodriguez has had some mixed fortunes. At 105lbs he seemed to be really big and really strong with an aggressive attitude that saw him effectively fight as a bully. When he's fought at a higher weight, as he did in both in 2 fights with Fajardo, he has struggled to make his strength and power count. From those results it does seem like Fajardo isn't really ready to move up too high, though of course they were fought well above the Light Flyweight limit. At 108lbs he may well be more effective than he was against Faardo.
Aged 21 Rodriguez has a really, really bright future ahead of him. He's already been mixing with some genuinely elite level fighters, such as Roman Gonzalez, and has scored two huge wins. One more, over Nietes, would put Rodriguez on the verge of becoming one of the most accomplished youngster fighters in the sport. Although accomplished we do wonder how Rodriguez fares when the crowd want to see him beat, and when he's facing a real technician like Nietes. Against Sabillo and Takayama we saw Rodrgiuez beat fighters, warriors and men who traded with him, that won't be the case here.
In their ring we're expecting a little bit of a bull Vs matador. Rodriguez will know that to win on the road he needs to clearly win the bout and this will make him even more aggressive than usual. The extra aggressiveness will give Nietes chances and the Filipino will make the most of the opening to land crisp and clean straights and uppercutts. If Rodriguez can walk through the, then we wouldn't be shocked to see the fight become an all out war of attrition. If they take their toll however and Rodriguez slows then we see Nietes taking a relatively comfortable decision win.
The interesting scenario is if they do end up going to war. We think that would favour Rodriguez though he really will need to win the rounds clearly to get the win...and we don't think he'll manage that.
We wouldn't be shocked if this was the fight of the month, but really don't see the title changing hands, even if the fight end sup being one that the neutral would give to the visitor.
The Light Flyweight division has been a strange one in recent years with fighters often doing little than using it as a stop gap en route to bigger and better things. Fighters like Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco have all been champions there recently before heading to pastures new. The only constant at the top of the division for the last few years has been the under-rated and over-looked Filipino icon Donnie Nietes (34-1-4, 20).
Nietes, who climbed atop of the division in 2011 has managed to rack up reign lasting more than 3 years and has featured 5 defense of the title, more than any other active champion in the division, in fact they have a combined 0 defenses!
The Filipino returns to the ring at the end of March as he looks to continue his light Flyweight reign and record his 11th total world title defense, combing reigns as Light Flyweight and Minimumweight champion. He also looks to continue his sensational form against Mexican opponent as he takes on Gilberto Parra (19-2-0-1, 17), in what will be his 5th straight fight against a Mexican foe.
For many the Light Flyweight division is a weak one. That's not a view we really share, our opinion is that it's one that has undergone a lot of changes and, as a result, has a lot of over-looked talent, such as Ryoichi Taguchi, Ryo Miyazaki and Paipharob Kokietgym. It's hard to argue however that Nietes, when he's on form, isn't the stand out fighter. He's defensively very good, has a wonderful arsenal of punches, under-rated power and brilliant timing. The only things lacking at times is his work rate or sometime his gameplan but in term of ability he is sensational.
Although not typically a big puncher Nietes has been hurting fighters recently and not only is he on a great run of results but he has also stopped his last 3 opponents. Included in those was a dominant victory against Moises Funetes last May in what really was one of the stand out performances of Nietes's career against a man we actually thought could have been a real threat.
Whilst Nietes is the widely regarded #1 in the division Para is just seen as just another challenger, the final challenger in many ways before Nietes battles former unified Minimumweight champion Francisco Rodriguez Jr.
On paper Parra looks like a major puncher however his record is padded to say the least. He has yet to score a notable victory and in fact his only fight with a worth while opponent saw him come up short against Martin Tecuapetla, who has himself suffered a recent loss to Milan Melindo, a stable mate of Nietes.
Footage of Para is also less than impressive with little to suggest that he can fight at this level. He can puncher against lesser level fighters but we've never seen him do it against a higher calibre fighter before. In fact we're completely unsold on his power and seen him look crude, wild swinging, wide and terrible open. He has decent hand speed but takes much of the speed away from his own shots by being so wild and wide.
Whilst Parra does look dangerous at a lower level he also looks liek a made to order opponent for a clever fighter like Nietes. We suspect the wide shots of Parra will merely leave him open and he'll be countered almost at will by the talented Filipino. Whilst Nietes isn't a big puncher he's an accurate puncher and accurate counters will take their toll over time. We suspect they'll be enough to see off challenger inside the distance with Nietes managing to record a 4th straight stoppage victory.
(Image courtesy of ALA Promotions)
When you talk to a typical boxing fan about the Philippines they rush to tell you how good Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire are. If you talk to a Filipino fight fan however there are numerous other names that get mentioned including that of 2-weight world champion Donnie Nietes (33-1-4, 19) who is without a doubt the most proven fighter currently playing his trade in the Philippines. Not only is he fighting in his homeland but he is doing so without the plaudits given to his more famous compatriots who are getting big money from US TV to fight.
This weekend we see Nietes returning to the ring in an attempt to record his fifth defense of the WBO Light Flyweight title and moving his total world title defenses to 9 defenses after previously having defended the WBO Minimumweight title 4 times and in the opposite to the Filipino will be Mexico's Carlos Velarde (26-3-1, 14), a man fighting in his second world title bout.
For those who haven't yet seen Nietes he is a technically well schooled boxer-puncher who looks absolutely amazing when he's fighting at his pace and in full flow. At other times however he looks labored and fights as if he thinks he's going to walk bouts just because he's got natural talent. The two different sides of Nietes were seen in his two bouts with Moises Fuentes. The first of the bouts saw Nietes loading up on shots and being dragged into a real struggle with Fuentes who got inside, out worked Nietes and slowed with body shots in what ended up being a highly controversial draw. Just 14 months later Nietes dominated Fuentes and stopped him in 9 rounds in what was one of the best performances of his career.
Through his 38 fight career Nietes has scored numerous notable wins over the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Manuel Vargas, Jesus Silvestre, Mario Rodriguez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes and Sammy Gutierrez all of whom have been in and around the world level for years. We're not suggesting that Nietes on the pound-for-pound lists but he is very over-looked and has the skills the really do impress when he's fighting to his potential.
Mexico's 24 year old Velarde is an interesting but limited fighter who turned professional aged 16 and has struggled when he has stepped up in class losing his first major step up in 5 rounds to Jesus Silvestre in 2009 and then losing to Ryo Miyazaki in a WBA Minimumweight title last year, suffering a KO of the Year contender in the process. Whilst he has sadly lost his two most notable contests to date he has scored a handful of wins including a decision over recent world champion Oswaldo Novoa and a win over Jose Argumedo.
In the ring Velarde fighters in an exciting manner. He comes forward, applies a lot of pressure and loves going to the body whilst fighting on the inside. He's not the most poweful or the quickest but he is very fun to watch. Sadly the risks he takes to apply his pressure is often his downfall as his defense is poor to say the least and he can be countered relatively easily by a half decent fighter.
Before this bout was made Nietes was given a choice between Velarde or Saul Juarez. We suspect that Velarde was chosen due to his style which is fun, but open and it's likely that that openness will leave Nietes with great big holes to exploit time and time against until he eventually stops Velarde in what we suspect will be an entertaining but 1-sided contest that makes Nietes shine like a star without needing to really work hard for the win.
For Nietes we're expecting this will be his last bout at Light Flyweight before he joins the fray at Flyweight adding further to be's most exciting division. We suspect he's intentionally picked a fighter he can look good against so that he can wave good bye to 108lbs in style and we've no real complaint there despite the fact it does leave the division relatively empty for the time being.
(Image courtesy of ALA Boxing)
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.