This coming Friday we'll see the long awaited ring return of WBA Light Flyweight "Super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (15-0, 10), who takes on "regular" champion Esteban Bermudez (14-3-2, 10), in what's expected to be a potential FOTY contender between two aggressive, hard hitting and exciting fighters looking to put down a marker to say they are the #1 fighter at 108lbs.
Of the two men the 28 year old Kyoguchi is the more well known and the more successful fighter. He had been a notable Japanese amateur before turning professional and debuting in 2016, with a low key win in Osaka. In just over 10 months he had gone from debutant to OPBF champion, stopping Armando de la Cruz for the OPBF Minimumweight title in February 2017. Just 5 months later he claimed the IBF Minimumweight title, the first world title of his career, which he defended twice before moving up in weight. At 108lbs he quickly established himself as one of the top divisional fighters, stopping Hekkie Budler at the end of 2018 for the WBA "super" title. Sadly since winning the Light Flyweight title he has lost a lot of momentum with just 3 defenses in 3 and a half years, as injuries and covid have really thwarted his career. He managed to record two defenses in 2019, but saw two planned defenses in 2020, against Andika D'Golden Boy in May and Thanongsak Simsri in November, fall through due to issues relating to covid. He managed to make his most recent appearance in March 2021, when he beat Axel Aragon Vega in 4 rounds. The plan was to get him back out in the ring later that same year but injuries saw his return being delayed, and delayed, to the point where he had now been out of the ring for well over a year.
In the ring Kyoguchi is a strong, powerful, aggressive fighter who combines the traits of a boxer-puncher with those of an intelligent pressure fighter. He comes forward, he applies pressure behind a stiff jab, and although he's not the quickest with his feet his pressure is smart and effective. He cuts the ring off well and forces his fight on opponents. Notably he is not the sort of fighter who needs to take control early on, instead building his success as fights go on, as we saw notably against Budler who started really well before being broken down in the second half of the fight. As well as his pressure style he's also a heavy handed boxer, with a great variety of shots and solid stamina, having been 12 rounds 5 times. He uses a lot of his amateur pedigree when he needs to but also has the explosive combinations and power on the inside that appear to be inspired by Roman Gonzalez, who he has stated is one of his favourite fighters.
Whilst Kyoguchi has been a fixture at world level for several years the same can't be said of Bermudez. The Mexican 26 year old debuted back in 2013, aged 17, and won his first 6 bouts before having a technical draw to end his winning run. Following that draw he tested the water at difference weights, and in 2015 suffered his first loss, when he was stopped inside a round by Francisco Perez Cardenas. That loss was quickly followed by his second loss, a decision loss at the hands of Gilberto Parra. He then began a small bounce back, scoring a notable win over former WBC world champion Oswaldo Novoa in 2019 before the pandemic slowed his rise, keeping him out of the ring for a year. Unfortunately on his return he was beaten again, losing a decision to Rosendo Hugo Guarneros. With a 13-3-2 (9) he was given a shot at WBA "regular" champion Carlos Canizales in May 2021 and was expected to be the next victim of Canizales' power however Bermudez shocked the boxing world and stopped Canizales to claim the title. He has, however, been out of the ring since that bout, giving him a lay off of over a year, and has had a bit of a stop start year, with planned bouts being cancelled which could have affected his hunger, desire and training for this bout.
In the ring Bermudez looks like a big guy at 108lbs. He has long levers, and looks a bit of a physical freak making weight. He's very rough around the edges, his shots often look like he's pushing them and he falls short. He's not crisp, or clean, or accurate and he's defensively not the smarted. He is however a powerful guy and even his cuffing slow shots appear to have real venom in them. His power is the scary type of power that makes his opponents scared of him, overly respectful, and wary. He does a lot of things wrong, but with his power, his reach and his willingness to commit to big shots he is a nightmare to fight. We saw those tools force Canizales on to the backfoot, where he is less effective, and we expect him trying to do the same to Kyoguchi here.
Although a big favourite Kyoguchi will need to be really, really cautious here. Especially given his inactivity in recent years. He has the skills and the tools to deal with Bermudez, especially with his body shots and combinations in the pocket, but at mid-range and longer distance Bermudez will have consistent success and will get Kyoguchi's respect. For Kyoguchi to win he needs to get inside, he needs to stop Bermudez getting full leverage on his shots and he needs to grind down the challenger. It's not going to be an easy task, but it's one he has the skills to do.
We expect to see Bermudez have real success early on, maybe even wobbling Kyoguchi in the first few rounds. As the bout goes on however Kyoguchi will begin to shake his ring rust, settling into the task at hand and begin to break down Bermudez in a scintillating bout.
Prediction - TKO10 Kyoguchi
November 7th 2019 will long be remembered for giving us one of the best Bantamweight bouts in recent memory, as Japanese star Naoya Inoue (22-0, 19) scored a unanimous decision over Filipino legend Nonito Donaire (42-6, 38) to unify the WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles, along with the Ring Magazine title and win the Bantamweight edition of the WBSS. The bout, later dubbed the "Drama in Saitama" was an instant classic, with everything a bout could want. It has intense respect between the two fighters, it had drama as Inoue suffered the first cut of his career, and was later diagnosed with a broken orbital and a fractured nose, and controversy with Ernie Sharif helping Donaire survive the penultimate round of the bout. The bout, later named the Ring Magazine Fight of the year, was brilliant and helped to enhance the reputations of both men.
This coming Tuesday we get to do it all again, in one of the most anticipated rematches of 2022. This time the bout will not only be for the WBA, IBF and Ring Magazine titles, but also the WBC title, with only the WBO title being missed on what would have unified all the Bantamweight belts together, for the first time in the 4 belt era.
Since their first bout we've not seen as much of Inoue as we would have liked, with the Monster's career stalling in part due to the injuries he suffered against Donaire, and in part due to the Pandemic, which made it nearly impossible to stage big bouts in Japan during 2020 and 2021. As a result Inoue has fought just 3 times in that time period and none of the bouts were huge ones against the divisional elite. Instead they were his Las Vegas debut in October 2020 against the capable Jason Moloney, a mandatory against the underwhelming Michael Dasmarinas and a homecoming defense against the brave but massive over-matched Aran Dipaen. There had been plans for a bout against John Riel Casimero, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic and never re-arranged, unfortunately, before Casimero was stripped of the WBO title.
Notably however the inactivity likely served Inoue well, allowing him a lot of time to heal up from the injuries he suffered to Donaire. He wasn't forced to rush back from what is a serious injury, and was instead able to take his time, and when he returned against Jason Moloney almost a year after that clash with Donaire he looked 100% the fighter he had been previously. He seemed very much the Monster we all know and love.
As we all know Inoue, arguably the face of Japanese boxing over the last few years, is indeed the Monster. He's one of the few fighters in the sport who really can do it all. He can play the boxer, the boxer-puncher, the counter-puncher and the pressure fighter, and has the tools in his arsenal to really pick and choose what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. He has brutal power, which has carried up from Light Flyweight to Bantamweight and is likely to carry up at least another division, if not two. He has incredible handspeed, impressive footspeed and worryingly for he also has an incredibly quick boxing brain. That boxing brain sees him seeing things before they even look to be there, including counter opportunities and defensive gaps that he can exploit. He's an offensive freak but is also a defensively under-rated fighter, with only Donaire really landing much of note on him since his 2012 debut, and has an incredible jaw, that saw withstand Donaire's much patented left hook.
Aged 39 Nonito Donaire should be retired, he should have his feet up, looking back on a great in ring career and either working with the new generation of fighters or using his brain as an analyst. Or even just walking away from boxing and enjoying one of his many hobbies away from the ring. Instead he's proving that a fighter who looks after themselves can give father time a bit of a fight, and still remain one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport. And when we talk about Donaire he really is dangerous, and has a very misleading KO ratio, of just 58.33%, despite being one of the heaviest handed fighters in the sport on a pound for pound basis. His power is legitimate and as he's gotten older, and lost some speed, he's adapted. He's not the same fighter he was, as a young Donaire was sharp, quick and destructive, but he's altered his in ring style to be deliberate, and has moved from a counter-puncher of sorts, to more of a stalking monster looking to take opponents heads off when he lands.
Donaire, who has won titles from Flyweight to Featherweight, is a first ballot Hall of Famer when he retires, and his resume reads like a who's who of who, of the lower weights from the last 15 years. Wins over Vic Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Fernando Montiel, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Ryan Burnett and Nordine Oubaali are just a handful of his wins. Even since the Inoue fight in 2019 he has scored notable wins stopping the then 17-0 Oubaali in 4 rounds and the then 24-0 Reymart Gaballo, further enhancing his reputation as a modern great.
Early in his career Donaire lived up to the moniker of the "Filipino Flash". He was lightning quick, with great timing, vicious power but some what poor boxing skills. His power and speed allowed him to get away with making mistakes, and bailed him out of bad situations. With his speed gone now a days, he has changed into a fighter who uses his size, and his ridiculously big frame at Bantamweight, along with his incredibly chin, to take when he needs to. He applies intense stalking pressure now a days. It's slow, it's deliberate, but it's hard to deal with given he still has excellent timing and is happy to take a shot to land a shot. The change in style is almost a reinvention of a fighter, and it's one that has seen him have success well beyond the typical age of a Bantamweight, of almost any fighter for that matter. It's a change that has allowed him to have success in the last part of his career, and whilst it won't forever, he will remain a threat to all the top fighters at 118lbs, due to his toughness, power, size and timing.
In their first bout the expectation was that Inoue was going to slay Donaire, stopping him and sending him into retirement. Had that happened it's fair to say Donaire would have been downplayed as being shot, and old. The fact he gave Inoue a tough bout saw both men enhancing their profiles and their positions. For Donaire to then bounce back and blast out Oubaali and prove he was still an elite level Bantamweight further enhanced both men, and coming into the Donaire is older than he was, but is also, arguably, standing in a better position than he was in 2019.
Sadly for Donaire however, we don't see him having the same success he had in the first bout with Inoue. Instead we expect to see Inoue being smarter, sharper and using his brain more. He knows what Donaire's left hook can do, and he also knows Donaire can be hurt to the body, with a liver shot sending Donaire down in their first bout. We suspect that will be the key for Inoue here, as he uses his speed, to target the body of Donaire, landing single shots to to slowly take the wind out of Donaire in the early part of the fight. Single shots from Inoue, who will look to get in and get out, draw Donaire into mistakes and tag the body. In the later rounds those body shots will take a toll, force Donaire to defend his body, before Inoue goes up top with a burst of head shots, forcing a stoppage in the later rounds.
After the bout, win or lose, we expect to see Donaire retire sailing off in to the sunset as a modern legend. Likewise we expect this to be either the final, or penultimate, Bantamweight bout for Inoue who will move up to Super Bantamweight and begin to hunt world titles in his 4th weight class.
Prediction - TKO10 Inoue
This coming Saturday we'll see IBF Super Featherweight champion Kenichi Ogawa (26-1-1-1, 18) seek his first defense, as he travels to Wales and takes on unbeaten Welsh challenger Joe Cordina (14-0, 8). The bout will see Ogawa making his European debut, having twice fought in the US along with 27 bouts in Japan, whilst Cordina will be getting his first world title bout. The contest will also be a really interesting one, as one of the top hopes of the UK steps up from European level to face a dangerous puncher with true world class power.
Of the two men Ogawa is, as a world champion, the more established in the professional ranks. He debuted in 2010 and slowly built himself on the Japanese scene before winning the IBF title last year. His route to the top is somewhat a traditional route in Japan, winning the Rookie of the Year, which he did in 2011, before winning a Japanese title, which he did in 2015, climbing up the world rankings, and finally winning a world when he beat Azinga Fuzile last November. Despite following something of a traditional Japanese route, he's not always followed Japanese tradition. He was once stripped of the IBF title for a failed drug test, becoming the first Japanese fighter to be stripped for such a reason, and he is also one of the few Japanese fighters to have won a world title in the US. In fact if he wins this bout he will also become the first ever Japanese fighter to successfully defend a world title in Europe*.
In the ring Ogawa doesn't do a lot amazingly well and watching him we don't see a fighter with incredible reflexes, or amazing speed. Instead however he fights to his strengths, which include a destructive right hand, patience, a good chin and great focus. We have seen him out boxed in the past, and we have seen fighters prove that he struggles with movement, as Satoru Sugita showed twice, but with his power, his determination and his controlled aggression he is a real danger man who keeps his power late in bouts. His right hand is his main weapon, especially against southpaws, but he also has solid power in his jab and hook, which he does mix into his attacks when he needs to. If anything he can be made to look lazy, but at the same time he is very much controlled in his aggress. With wins against the likes of Deivi Julio Bassa, who was unbeaten at the time, Rikki Naito, Kazuhiro Nishitani and Azinga Fuzile, he has a solid resume, but one that is very much under-rated.
Aged 30 Joe Cordina is regarded as one of the big hopes of British boxing, specifically Welsh boxing. Cordina turned professional in 2017, and did so with a lot of expectations on his shoulders following an excellent amateur career. His time as an amateur saw him winning a gold medal at the European Championships in 2015 and a Bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He also competed at the 2016 Olympics, beating Filipino Charly Suarez before losing to Hurshid Tojibaez in the second round. When he turned professional he started fact and stopped his first 4 opponents in the first round, in less than 5 months whilst fighting at both Super Featherweight and Lightweight. Within a year of his debut he won his first title, a WBA International title, before adding the Commonwealth title a few months later and then the British title a few months after that. By the end of 2019 he seemed to have some momentum building in his career, but sadly that momentum was derailed in 2020 when the pandemic kept him out of the ring for a full year. Thankfully for him he did bounce back in 2021 with 3 wins, with the most notable of those being a razor thin majority decision over Faroukh Kourbanov, but it does feel like this is a notable step up for him, from European level to world level.
During his career Cordina has been both praised for his skills, speed and slickness. And criticised for his lack of finishing and questionable power. He's a fighter who is clearly skilled, and the Welshman is a brilliantly talented southpaw boxer-puncher, with crisp clean punches, a nice sharp jab, good feints and really nice speed, both with his hand and upper body. He can be a little flat footed and although a fighter who looks relaxed and composed we do wonder whether he can still be composed and calm when he's facing someone with genuine fight changing power. In fact if we're being honest Cordina, since turning professional, hasn't really faced someone who's a puncher. Saying that he does appear to have good defense, though few fighters he has faced have ever really had the tools to even come close to unpicking him.
Historically Japanese fighters have not had great results in Europe. There are only a handful of wins by Japanese fighters in Europe, with the most notable being a win by Naoya Inoue against Emmanuel Rodriguez in 2019 for the IBF Bantamweight title. And it's fair to say that Ogawa will be the under-dog here. Despite that Ogawa has shown his ability on the road, as seen in his win over Fuzile, and he has typically enjoyed fighting southpaws, with his "Crush Right" being a devastating weapon against lefties. If Cordina can either avoid that right hand, or neutralise it all together, he has a really good chance of out boxing and out skilling Ogawa. If he gets caught however this could be a painful night for him. We suspect, over 12 rounds, Ogawa will land, and will land something big, even against someone with the defensive skills of Cordina.
Prediction - TKO11 Ogawa
*Naoya Inoue's WBA "Regular" Bantamweight title wasn't being defended when he fought Emmanuel Rodriguez for the IBF title in 2019 as part of World Boxing Super Series.
This coming Saturday we'll see unbeaten men collide as Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (11-0, 7) and Danny Dignum (14-0-1, 8) clash for the WBO "interim" Middleweight title, which is likely to be upgraded when Demetrius Andrade officially leaves the division and campaign full time at 168lbs.
Of the two men the more impressive is the 29 year old Alimkhanuly, who has began shining in recent bouts, putting things together and beating notable names in the form of Rob Brant and Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. Prior to really breaking out Alimkhanuly had long been regarded as something of a hidden gem that just hadn't quite clicked as a professional. He had been a stellar amateur, and a lot of his amateur traits remained in the early part of his career, particularly in his wins over the likes of Carlos Galvan, Vaughn Alexander and Cristian Olivas. To his credit though it appears those bouts served as his apprenticeship to the professional scene, and his more recent wins have seen him showing more class, more killer instinct and a real bit of spite. His win over Gonzalo Gaston Coria showed that spite, with 2020 KO of the year contender, whilst his wins over Rob Brant and Hassan N'Dam saw him stopping two former world champions and going about it in a methodical and almost sadastic fashion, beating them up round after round, whilst barely taking anything in return.
In the ring Alimkhanuly is a sensationally talented boxer. He's never going to go down as a KO artist, but his shots have venom and get opponents respect. He combines high levels skills with impressive speed, a fluidity to his boxing, and a brain that thinks a few steps ahead. He's not going to take risks, or be the most exciting of fighters, but he is going to be a danger man to the division due to his ring IQ, his consistency, and his skills, which are very high level. He takes his time, he allows himself to settle and then chips away at opponents, using educated and intelligent pressure, behind his crisp clean punches. To top it all off, he's also a southpaw, making him even more of a nightmare for opponents, and allowing him to set things up from awkward angles and catch opponent from angles they aren't used to. Against a top pressure fighter, with quick feet he may struggle, but against those who try to box it's hard to see many in the division out boxing him.
Aged 30 English fighter Danny Dignum is also an unbeaten Southpaw. His competition has, however, been a lot less notable than that of Alimkhanuly with his best results being a draw with Andrey Sirotkin last year, and wins over the likes of Grant Dennis, Alfredo Meli, Conrad Cummings and Rafal Jackiewicz. In fact they are his only wins over fighters with winning records. Despite that he will know that he's expected to be the under-dog, and the pressure is on Alimkhanuly to shine, and the focus will be, in many ways, on the Kazakh allowing Dignum to focus on himself and his fight, rather than what's going on outside of himself.
In the ring Dignum is a fight who likes to come forward, stalking his opponents and get inside. He's a patient stalker in many ways and does have some nice counter punching in his arsenal. He is however a bit predictable. He doesn't mix things up too much, and despite having nice counters he does seem a bit pedestrian, without too much sharpness or fluidity to his work. In fact he quite often looks sloppy with his punched, and really slow with his straight shots. There's almost a ponderous nature to how he fights. Worryingly for him is the fact opponents can catch him with straight shots of their own, and he's not a particularly smart defensive fighter. That's not to say he's there to be hit, but his defenses are relatively limited, even at the low level he's been fighting at. He's what we consider a good continental level fighter, a bit like a solid OPBF champion, but that level is well below genuine world class and we suspect that will be seen here.
Coming in to this we suspect Dignum just doesn't have what it takes to really test Alimkhanuly and his slow, almost deliberate pressure style will actually be made to order for the Kazakh. Alimkhanuly's crisper, cleaner, harder and sharper punches will make the most of Dignum's porous defense. And round by round Alimkhanuly's shots will chip away at Dignum, who will be left swollen, bloodied, beaten and eventually stopped, either by the referee or his team, knowing that he has stepped too much in this bout.
Prediction - TKO9 Alimkhanuly
This coming weekend fight fans around the globe will be focused on the Light Heavyweight division as the unbeaten Dmitrii Bivol (19-0, 11) takes on Mexican megastar Saul Alvarez (57-1-2, 39), at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The bout will see Bivol looking to extend his WBA Light Heavyweight "super" title reign, whilst Alvarez will look to further cement his place as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, and one of the greatest Mexican fighters of all time.
The bout promises to be a serious test for Canelo, who has looked sensational in recent years, whilst Bivol will get a chance to make a huge name for himself and prove he really is as good as his fans believe.
Of the two fighters there is no doubting that Alvarez is the bigger name and the more prominent star. The Mexican is widely regarded as the face of the sport and the biggest global star boxing has. Not only is he regarded as a huge star but he's also widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter, and has had success from Light Middleweight up to Light Heavyweight, winning titles in all 4 weight classes. Not only that but his resume is also incredible, with wins against the likes Shane Mosley, Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, Gennady Golovkin, Daniel Jacobs, Sergey Kovalev, Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant.
In the ring Canelo is a supreme fighting machine. He's an offensive fighter, who presses forward on the front foot, mentally breaks fighters with his front foot pressure, but applies that pressure in an intelligent, educated fashion. He uses smart footwork to cut the ring off, excellent head movement to make fighters miss, a tight guard to block shots that head his way, and some of the best body punching in the sport. Although not a huge single punch puncher Canelo is heavy headed, and his shots do damage right through the bout, with his power carrying late into bouts. He's often looks under-sized at 168lbs, never mind 175lbs, but he's physically imposing, thick, heavy set and incredibly strong, allowing him to push naturally bigger men around. Worryingly for opponents he's also intelligent, with a good boxing brain and he has shown an ability to adapt when he needs to. If we're looking for flaws with Canelo, he does have relatively slow feet, movement has caused him issues numerous times during his career and fighters have had success by keeping him chasing, but he his typically got to them sooner or later, Floyd Mayweather Jr aside.
Russian based fighter Bivol is a fighter who has generated a lot of buzz among the hardcore fans early in his career, with exciting performances, and highly developed skills, along with an impressive work rate and a fan friendly style. His early years as a professional gave hints at him something a bit special, and someone worth tuning into. It was noted that he was a stand out amateur, though from his early days as a professional it was clear he had a style suited to the professional ranks. Early career wins over the likes of Felipe Romero, Jackson Junior and Felix Veral, all in his first 7 fights, put him on the fast track. Sadly however as the level of competition improved Bivol's style began to move away from exciting and over the last 4 or so years he has gone from exciting to conservative, controlling and effective, turning fans against him, despite solid wins over the likes of Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr.
In recent years Bivol has focused a lot on boxing. Dictating the range, tempo and style of the fight. Using footwork to create space. Controlling the action behind his long straight punches, and good timing, rather than work rate, aggression and combinations. He has seemingly been happy to cruise to wins, and had disappointing performance against the likes of Isaac Chilemba and Craig Richards as a result. There is no doubting his talent, but there is a lack of fire, excitement, drive and in some ways ambition. And it has resulted in a lot of his recent fights feeling dramaless, as he sucks the excitement out of bouts. It works, and gets results, but certainly does feel like he has lost much of the good will he had.
Although a solid Light Heavyweight Bivol is certainly no physical freak at the weight, nor a massive puncher. With Canelo looking to make his name at the weight, Bivol is the ideal foe for him, unlike Joe Smith Jr and Artur Beterbiev, who can both bang. Bivol will try and box with Canelo, and will have success, with his footwork, straight punching and work at distance. Sadly though we don't see him keeping Canelo at bay long enough to rack up the rounds, and instead he will be forced to either stand and fight, or go through the motions to lost a decision.
We don't see Bivol having the hunger needed to make this into a fire fight late on. Instead we see him starting well, being caught up in the middle rounds, and then having Canelo take the lead, with his work rate and pressure, and go on to take a wide, clear, decision over the champion. Bivol will have moments, but will simply not do enough.
Prediction - UD12 Canelo
On April 22nd we'll see WBO Minimumweight champion Masataka Taniguchi (15-3, 10) [谷口将隆] make his first defense, as he takes on the hard hitting Kai Ishizawa (10-1, 9) [石澤開] in a mouth watering match up that promises explosive action. For Taniguchi the bout is a chance for him to build on his big win over Wilfredo Mendez late last year, and notch a second victory over Ishizawa whilst also keeping his title. As for Ishizawa, the bout is about much more than the belt, and for him the contest seems personal as he attempts to avenge the sole defeat on his record. With a bit of history between the two men we expect this to be something of a personal bout, and quite possible one of the real hidden gems for the month.
Of the two men the more accomplished is Taniguchi, clearly. He was a notable Japanese amateur before turning to the professional ranks, and there was a lot of expectations on his shoulders. He, and fellow Watanabe Gym fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi, were seen as the next generation of fighters at the gym, and the men to replace the likes of Takashi Uchiyama, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kohei Kono. Both were rushed to notable fights, but sadly for Taniguchi he would come up short in his bigger bouts, losing against Reiya Konishi, Tsubasa Koura and Vic Saludar. Despite those losses it was clear he was a real talent, who had the tools to go all the way, but just fell short in bouts with the most on the line. Tellingly however he has rebuilt and used those losses to build his hunger, which has resulted in him winning his last 4 bouts, including his victories over Ishizawa in 2019, a win over Hizuki Saso for the Japanese title in 2020 and his win over Mendez last year for the WBO title.
In the ring Taniguchi is a very high level boxer-puncher, with under-rated body punching, good shot selection and an impressive array of technical skills. He's not a huge puncher, or the mot aggressive, the most physically imposing, but he's a very solid boxer, who can do everything, very well without being excellent in any specific area. As a fighter he's proven to have a solid chin, good work rate, a good engine and be willing to dig deep late in bouts. Sadly though whilst he is very good his flaws can be targeted, and his lack of being incredible in any area does leave him with areas where opponents can target him. For example Vic Saludar was too strong, and managed to force Taniguchi to back up a lot, however he will given anyone a tough bout and with his confidence at an all time high, it's fair to say only genuine world class fighters will be able to beat him. He has, after all, improved a lot from his losses.
Aged 25 Kai Ishizawa is a nightmare for the division, as he continues to develop from a young man with terrifying physical strength and power, into a man in his prime years. He is very much a fearsome individual and arguably the most dangerous man in the 105lb weight class. He turned professional without much fan fare, joining the likes of Junto Nakatani at the MT Gym, but quickly started to build a reputation for himself with his power, aggression and eye catching style. Things were boosted when he stopped Tatsuro Nakashima and then claimed the Japanese Youth title with an impressive win over Yuga Inoue. Sadly for Ishizawa his winning run came to an end in 2019 when he was beaten by Taniguchi, though since then he had gone 4-0 (3) and claimed the Japanese national title, with a win over Katsuki Mori this past January.
Unlike many Minimumweights Ishizawa doesn't get into the ring to just win, but instead win inside the distance. By pressing, bullying and pounding his opponents in the pursuit of a stoppage. He typically fights behind a tight, high guard, presses forward, and looks to break opponents down with his physicalpressure, heavy hands and brutal shots. He mixes things up nicely, to head and body, and makes fighters wilt under his pressure. So far only two fighters have survived the distance with him, Taniguchi and Yuni Takada, and coming in to this bout it's clear that Ishizawa doesn't want Taniguchi to repeat the act. He will also have learned form that loss, and will now know that against a fighter liek Taniguchi he really can't wait like he did in the first fight, and instead needs to be more intense, get closer, and let his hands fly more willingly.
As seen in their first bout, there is no denying that Taniguchi is the better boxer. He's more agile, uses straight punches well, picks his shots excellently and is all round a more complete fighter than Ishizawa. He managed to neutralise Ishizawa for stretches in their first bout, and although Ishizawa was always dangerous it was a pretty clear win for Taniguchi.
For things to change here Ishizawa will need to make Taniguchi uncomfortable. He will need to get close, rip the body more, and get his uppercuts off. He will need to push Taniguchi on to the ropes, take his movement away and get to work. If he can do that, he stands a genuine chance of avenging his loss and claiming the WBO title.
Notably though we see Ishizawa again struggling to get into range and get his shots off. What we're expecting is for Taniguchi to keep things long, use his quicker legs early on, take some steam out of Ishizawa in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Hold when he needs to. In the second half a more tired Ishizawa will be slower anyway, and from there Taniguchi should be able to pick, poke and prod his way to either a decision win or a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO12 Taniguchi
It's rare that Japan gets to host one of the biggest and most anticipated fights of the year, but that's exactly what we get this Saturday as we finally get to see the Middleweight mega clash between Gennadiy Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) and Ryota Murata (16-2, 13). The bout will not just be a huge bout for Japan, but also the boxing world, and a huge Middleweight unification bout, as Golovkin risks his IBF title against WBA "Super" champion Murata. It is also the culmination of years of chasing by Murata and his team for a super fight, with Golovkin having been on Murata's wish list for the better part of a decade, along with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
Whilst the bout has long been spoken about in Japan it often seemed out of reach for Murata and Teiken. That was until last year when a deal was finally agreed to have the bout in Japan, in December. Sadly though the best laid plans of Teiken were unable to go ahead when the Omicron variant of Coronavirus was discovered, leading to the Japanese government closing the borders and preventing Golovkin for travelling for the bout, and forcing it to be postponed until this coming weekend. Despite the delay the bout remains one of the most notable bouts on the schedule, and one that promises genuine fireworks. It also, could, end up being the final time we see one, if not both, of these men in the ring.
Of the two fighters the more well known, by far, is Golovkin. "GGG" has been a fixture on the global boxing scene as both and amateur and a professional. As an amateur he was a stellar fighter who won a whole host of notable honours. He was a World Championship gold medal winner, a multi-time World Cup winner, an Asian Championship gold medal winner winner and an Olympic silver medal winner. In over 350 amateur bouts he only suffered a handful of losses, and turned professional with a lot of expectation on his shoulders.
Sadly the early part of Golovkin's professional career was somewhat wasted, as he was tucked away on Universum cards in Germany. When he finally left Universum there was a delay in him really getting his career going due to contractual issues with Universum and it wasn't until 2012, aged 30, that he finally got a chance to fight in the US. By that point Golovkin was 23-0 (20) and had held the WBA "regular" title for almost 2 years. Since 2012 however he has been one of the faces of boxing, with regular bouts in the US and wins over fighters like Gabe Rosado, Daniel Geale, David Lemieux, Kell Brook, Daniel Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko, as well as two sensational battles with Saul Alvarez, which saw Golovkin going 0-1-1 against the Mexican icon.
We don't think we really need to go into Golovkin's style too much, but for those few who haven't followed him through the years, the Kazakh is a massive punching fighter, who applies intelligent, constant and intense pressure. He combines an impressive work rate, with very heavy hands, an incredibly chin, and incredibly good technical skills. Looking for flaws with Golovkin isn't as tough as it once was. In the past his defense was his major flaw, though given his chin it perhaps wasn't much of a flaw. Now a days though he has slowed significantly, his footwork isn't what it once was, although he was never quick he has seemingly slowed down with the bouts against Steve Rolls and Sergiy Derevyanchenko, in 2019, suggesting cracks were showing. Also, at the age of 40 and having been inactive since December 2020, it's hard to know what he still has in the tank, and what he can still do in the ring. He looked great against Kamil Szeremeta, but Szeremeta offered very little and was stopped again just 6 months later, by Jamie Munguia, before being held to a draw at the end of 2021 by Nizar Trimech. It could well be that that bout flattered Golovkin, rather than showed a resurgence from the Kazakh.
As for Murata, like Golovkin he was also a very good amateur, and had a style suited to the professional ranks. Among his amateur accomplishments are a world championship silver medal and an Olympic gold medal. Unlike Golovkin though he wasn't a major star on the unpaid ranks for long, and only really had a stretch of a year or two where he made a huge amount of noise, before eventually turning professional in 2013. As a professional he moved pretty quickly, beating the OPBF champion on debut, and scored a string of solid wins to begin his career. His first 10 opponents had a combined 188-39-10 record, showing the strength of his early competition, and he was fighting in 10 rounders as early as his 4th bout. Sadly though his performance were somewhat hit and miss, and there was times where he seemed to go through the motions, rather than show what he can really do. When he has put his foot on the gas, and things have clicked, he has shone, such as his stoppage wins against Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, Rob Brant and Steven Butler.
As mentioned, when it comes to Murata's performances they have been hit and miss. At times he can look plodding, ponderous, and almost disinterested. This was seen in 2018 when he was dominated by Rob Brant. It seemed, in many ways, he had over-looked Brant, and had come in incredibly flat. When he's on form however he's a big, strong, powerful, pressure fighter, who uses a tight high guard, a stiff jab, and a huge ramrod right hand to break opponents down. His chin is solid, his work rate is decent, and physically he's a very scary fighter. He's not the busiest, or the sharpest, but he can change tempo really well, and when he lets his combinations go he can look brutal, and has dismantled very solid fighters. He is made for TV, with his offensive prowess and his defensive flaws alongside his brutal thudding power, though often looks a bit basic. Aged 36 he'll know that this is his likely his last chance to make a mark on the wider boxing world, and a win over Golovkin would certainly do that, but he has also been very inactive, having not fought since the end of 2019, something that could really hurt him here.
In their primes, there is no debating the result of this bout. Golovkin would win every time. But neither man is in their prime anymore. Golovkin is now 40, he has visible slowed in bouts, and although the much better technical boxer, his slowing feet might allow Murata to force his will on the bout more than many would expect. Likewise Murata isn't in his prime but he's a big old brute at the division, and will trudge forward looking to use his size and strength, though might not be able to pull the trigger like a 30 or 31 year old can.
One thing is for certain. Both of these guys are aggressive. Both like to let their hands go and see defense as something that really isn't their strong point. That could lead to this becoming something of a fire fight up close and personal, with both leaning into and on top of the other man, unleashing shots and mid and close range, in a battle of machismo. If that happens we, as fans, are in for a treat, and could end up with something very special, despite both men being on the older side of things.
If Golovkin's legs are still youthful and bouncy enough, he should have enough to dictate the tempo, and control Murata at mid range and more than hold his own up close. If that happens Golovkin takes either stoppage or wide decision. If Murata can however get inside, and make this a battle of wills, he has a genuine chance of an upset, in an all out war, thanks to the age of Golovkin.
Whilst we can see a potential route to victory for Murata, we would still deem that a very big upset, and a genuine surprise. With that in mind we are expecting to see Golokin win, but go through hell to take the W in a bruising, brutal, tough, bout.
Prediction - TKO10 Golovkin
Throughout the history of our great sport, the Flyweight division has given his a host of legendary names. The likes of Jimmy Wilde, Pancho Villa, Fidel LaBarba, Midget Wolgast, Benny Lynch, Fighting Harada, Pone Kingpetch, Masao Oba, Miguel Canto, Yuri Arbachakov, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Nonito Donaire, Omar Andres Narvaez and Roman Gonzalez, to name just a few, have etched their names in the annals of the sports all time legends.
Today it's hard to look at the Flyweight division and know which fighter will be the next to add their name among the divisional greats, though a number of fighters certainly seem capable of becoming divisional greats. One such fighter is current WBO champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17), who returns to the ring this coming weekend in pursuit of his second defense of the title, as he takes on Ryota Yamauchi (8-1, 7).
Although a long, long, long way from establishing himself as a legend, the 24 year Nakatani old certainly has the tools and time to make a huge mark on the sport. Despite that he has already made a name for himself as one of the best in the division today, and has down so by gradually building his reputation, rather than being moved rapidly through the ranks like many top current Japanese fighters. He debuted in 2015, aged just 17 and first began to make a name for himself the following year, when he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating future world champion Masamichi Yabuki in the final. In the years that followed he continued to progress, develop, mature and improve, whilst moving towards more notable fights. Along the way he won the Japanese Youth and Japanese national Flyweight titles, as well as scoring a very notable TKO win over Milan Melindo, and in 2020 he finally got a shot at a world title. In that bout he faced off against talented Filipino Giemel Magramo, in what looked like a 50-50 style fight. Despite being well matched on paper Nakatani dominated the contest with a real break out performance, stopping Magramo in 8 rounds, whilst dominating him on both the outside and the inside. Since that win he has defended the belt once, stopping Angel Acosta in his US debut last year in 4 rounds, in a bloody contest that saw Acosta being left a bloodied mess.
In the ring Nakatani is huge for a Flyweight, he's tall, rangy and looks like his body hasn't really started to fill out properly yet. In all honesty he seems like he could end up as high as Super Bantamweight, or even Featherweight, by the time his career is over. Whilst he has shown he can use his size well, with an excellent jab, great straight punches and intelligent hooks, he has also shown he can fight on the inside and be a dog when he needs to be, as seen in his wins over Seigo Yuri Akui, Magramo and Acosta, among others. Aged 24 he is still maturing, still improving, and is already a scary fighter for the other fighters in the Flyweight division, as he seems capable of doing almost everything, and doing it whilst in control of the action. Like all great fighters he switches between head and body at will, controls the tempo of the bout, and can change tactics as and when needed. Although maybe not as slick as IBF champion Sunny Edwards, or as aggressive as WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez, he is arguably the most rounded fighter in the division, and a genuine nightmare for anyone at 112lbs.
Whilst Nakatani has been taken from relative obscurity to world champion by the MT gym, his challenger was something of a notable amateur who has been moved very aggressively by his team, the Kadoebi Boxing Gym. As an amateur Yamauchi went 38-15 (14) in the tough Japanese domestic amateur scene. Despite not having a stellar record, his style was more suited to the professional ranks, and that was seen almost straight away with his aggression and power shots breaking down Lester Abutan and Yota Hori in his second and third professional bouts. In just his fifth professional bout he travelled over to China and faced off with the then world ranked Wulan Tuolehazi, and lost a very competitive bout that saw a bit of home cooking from the 3 "wise men". That bout saw both men being dropped, and was a genuinely brilliant 12 rounder which allowed Yamauchi to prove his stamina, heart, desire and overall ability, even in hostile territory. Since that loss he has gotten back to winning ways, and scored a number of decent wins over the likes of Alphoe Dagayloan, Satoru Todaka and Yuta Nakayama, whilst winning and defending the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title.
Aged 27 Yamauchi is now in his physical prim, he looks mature, strong and powerful, and a lot of his style is based on his physicality and aggression. He has solid foundations from his amateur days, a nice jab, good variety in his shots, and applies constant pressure behind his jab and footwork. Although he does have a great jab, he uses it more to force opponents backwards, and to get inside, where he can go to work, rather than boxing and moving on the backfoot. His shots are heavy, damaging and when he unleashes on the inside he looks genuinely brutal, especially with his left hands to the midsection. At range he has struggled in the past, and against Tuolehazi, the Chinese fighter caught him time and time again with counter left hands, but he has improved since then and is certainly more defensively aware than he used to be. Worryingly for Yamauchi is the fact he's really jumping up in class here. Wins over the likes of Dagayloan and Nakayama are decent, but do not prepare a fighter to face someone who is genuinely world class. Another thing Yamauchi is missing is rounds. he does have a 12 round bout and an 8 rounder under his belt, but on average his bouts have gone just 5 rounds, and he's only gone beyond 6 a total of 3 times.
Having watched both men through their careers so far, we've been fans of both. We've loved watching Nakatani develop in front of our eyes, from a teenager to a national and then world champion, and his development has shown that fighters should take regular steps up in class, and be allowed to show what they are capable of against good fighter. We've also loved to see Yamauchi being moved aggressively and treat like a special fighter in the making. We've also been able to see bother fighters develop their styles and their in ring behaviour. Sadly for Yamauchi however, it does feel like this step up is a significant one, and that his strengths don't play into the very few weaknesses of Nakatani, who has a better jab and is cleaner and more varied on the inside. Yamauchi will certainly have moments, but we feel a lot of his work will come back with interest.
Despite feeling confident Nakatani will have too much, both inside and outside, we do expect this to be fought, mostly, up close, with the two men trading shots, making for a thrilling action bout, until Yamauchi finally has his resistance broken in the second half of the fight. He will give it his all, but eventually have to go out on his shield, having played his part in something of a special and all action bout. We wouldn't be surprised to see Nakatani being once or twice, Yamauchi to be dropped, at least once, and a lot of heavy power shots being thrown in a bout that could over-shadow the huge Middleweight bout between Gennady Golovkin and Ryota Murata, which headlines the card this is on.
Prediction - TKO9 Nakatani
On March 19th we'll see the second defense of the IBF Flyweight title by slippery unbeaten English fighter Sunny Edwards (17-0, 4) as he takes on Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem (12-1, 8) in Dubai, in a very interesting looking bout which could see Edwards stamp his claim as one of the best in the division, or could see Waseem put Pakistan on the boxing map and become the first world champion from the South Asian country, finally living up to the promise he showed at the start of his professional career. The bout is a must win for both men, and is one where the skills of the two men, should make for a genuinely excellent bout, though sadly it may well be coming whilst the two are at very different points of their careers.
The ?? year old Edwards is one of the most under-rated fighters in the sport today, and for much of the early portion of his career he was over-shadowed by brother Charlie Edwards, a former WBC Flyweight champion, who was regarded by many as the better fighter. Today however it appears that the more slippery Sunny is the better boxer of the two brothers. His career started slowly, tucked away on Fran Warren shows, mostly against domestic competition, but in 2021 he broke out in a huge way, as he comfortably out boxed wily old veteran Moruti Mthalane to claim the IBF title. That win was a huge one for the division, and although it was a stylitically easy one for the fleet footed Edwars, it was an impressive show case of his concentration, stamina, focus and speed, as he preverented Mthalane from closing the distance and neutralised the South African's pressure round after round. Since winning the title he has defended the belt once, beating Filipino Jayson Mama, with a wide decision back in December.
Edwards is a wonderfully skilled technical boxer, arguably one of the best in and around the lower weights. He's fleet footed, slippery as an eel and has impressive handspeed, timing, and understanding of range. Sadly for him he does lack power, stoppages are incredibly rare during his career, and whilst he lands plenty he can't regularly make opponents back away, despite consistently landing clean blow. Whilst he does land clean on a consistent basis, opponents don't. In fact opponents regularly fall short, or at best land on arms, and are often beaten mentally just as much as physically. Although he hasn't been tagged regularly through his career, there is some positives for his opponents, as we have seen him dropped before, and we've also seen him pick up injuries in fights, and in fact he struggled in one or two bouts at domestic level, something the other top Flyweights will see as a chink in his armour. Notable his lack of power will also see the other top Flyweight look to take extra risks, to drag him into a fire fight, something that the likes of Ricardo Sandoval, Seigo Yuri Akui and Julio Cesar Martinez would feel comfortable in doing.
Whilst the 26 year old champion is coming in to his prime the challenge is certainly not, in fact at 34 years old Waseem would become one of the oldest men to win a Flyweight title were he to pick up the upset win here. Sadly for him his career has been a hugely frustrating one since turning professional in 2015, in South Korea. It has been a career that has seen funds being promised but not deliver, and has seen stretches of inactivity, and really not gone the way he, and those that have worked with him, would have hoped. He began his career in a 10 round title bout, scored a very notable win just 13 months later, beating Giemel Magramo and then things really ground to a halt with 3 meaningless wins in Panama before he got a shot Moruti Mthalane for the IBF title in 2018. That bout showed what Waseem could do, as he lost a razor thin decision against the brilliant South African, but since then he has fought just 4 times, and struggled to get a major fight during that time, and has looked somewhat demotivated by the sport at times, notably against Ganigan Lopez.
At his best Waseem was a brilliant boxer-puncher, who took a wealth of amateur experience to the professional ranks, and looked like someone who was going to be a star for Pakistani boxing. His early work with Korean promoter Andy Kim seemed to have him on the fast track to the top, but a lack of financial backing slowed that rise, drastically. Now a days it does seem like some of his sharpness has faded with time and he's not as quick, explosive, or sharp as he once was. He's still very capable, but he doesn't look the same fighter that had excited us early in his career, and had come so close to stopping Mthalane in 2018. In fact he now looks some what over-patient, in recent bouts, and whilst technically excellent, there is a lack of fire in some of his performance and we're only seeing glimpses of how good he was, just a few short years ago.
We'll be honest, we would love Waseem to win, putting Pakistan on the boxing map, giving the country it's first world champion, and helping potentially ignite a love of boxing in a country that is cricket mad. A prime Waseem could well have managed that, with his pressure, physicality, and power. With a 34 year old Waseem however the difference between the two men will be foot speed, with Edwards being too light on his feet, too quick with his hands and too slippery. Waseem will commit to coming forward, applying pressure, but much like Edwards' win over Mthalane, we see father time playing a notable role in this bout, and the stylistic strength of Edwards being too much for Waseem to over-come.
Prediction - UD12 Edwards
On September 22nd 2021 the Japanese boxing world had a notable upset as the long and impressive WBC Light Flyweight reign of Kenshiro Teraji (18-1, 10) came to an end in his 9th defense, as he was stopped by the unheralded Masamichi Yabuki (13-3, 12), who dethroned the champion in round 10. The result was a huge one for those who follow the lower weight classes, and also a bout that essentially derailed a dream title unification between Kenshiro and WBA "super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi, who had began to make a name in the US thanks to linking up with Eddie Hearn, Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.
Following that bout there was a complaint put forward by Kenshiro's team, including his father, that the bout had been marred by head clashes, notable caused by Yabuki, with one late in the bout negatively affecting Kenshiro, who didn't look the same after one particular clash. This issue was raised with the JBC, who did their best impression of the British Boxing Board of Control and pretended it had no bearing on the result of the bout, and the WBC, who took steps to order a rematch, recognising the head clash, along with Kenshiro's reign as reasons for the men to go again in an immediate rematch. Around the time of the WBC order the terms for the rematch were agreed relatively quickly between the 4 sides involved, Green Gym - who promote Yabuki, BMB and Misako Gym - who represent Kenshiro, and Shinsei, who promoted the first bout and will also promote this one.
Coming in to this bout there is a lot of small stories that feel somewhat unresolved from their first bout. Their first fight had been marred with issues before and during the contest. The most notable of those wasn't, however, the head clash. Instead it was Kenshiro contracting covid in the weeks before the bout. He had been said to only have had mild symptoms, but the bout had been re-arranged due to his positive test, and it was suggested that issue getting back into fighting shape only weeks after contracting the virus had taken it's toll on him, leaving him less than 100% come fight night. Notable we have seen numerous fighters being affected by the virus, and many of them haven't looked themselves in their first bout following the illness. It's maybe didn't change the outcome of the bout, but it's fair to say that Kenshiro's preparation for that first bout was certainly not great. Given that covid affects the repository system, and Kenshiro had looked tired in the middle of the bout, there is a good chance the issues of the virus were still affecting him in the ring. As for the bout there was the well reported issue with head clashes, which went unpunished by the referee. Coming in to this rematch we're expecting to see Kenshiro at 100%, and determined to avenge his loss, reclaim his title and do more than just win, we expect him to look to make a statement. As for Yabuki he'll be wanting to put to bed any idea that he needed to be facing a somewhat sub-optimal Kenshiro to win, and that he relied on some generous work from the referee to win. In fact he's also like to feel fired up by the suggestions that he was fighting dirty and couldn't have taken home the win without now well noted issues with his head. With those things in mind we're expect to see both men fighting with more hunger, more desire and more stubbornness than in their first bout. Those traits alone could actually affect this bout, quite considerably.
For those who haven't followed the two men, and their careers so far, it's worth learning something about the two fighters.
Prior to last year's huge win Masamichi Yabuki wasn't known at all outside of Asia. In fact he'd only fought once outside of Japan, scoring a win in South Korea. In Japan he was probably best known for 3 things. The first of those was losing to Junto Nakatani in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Flyweight, the second was his 2018 loss to Seigo Yuri Akui, and his third was winning the Japanese Light Flyweight title in 2020, when he stopped Tsuyoshi Sato inside a round. Even in Japan he wasn't a big name, fighting mostly in Kariya and only having had 3 fights at Korakuen Hall, the holy land of Japanese boxing. Despite his set backs he had scored notable wins, stopping Gilberto Pedroza in 2 rounds, Ryuto Oho in 6, Rikito Shiba in 4, Sato in 1 and had defended defend the Japanese title with a wide win over Toshimasa Ouchi. He was however very much regarded as something of a local star in Central Japan, and someone who had been showcased a fair bit on Boxing Raise, thanks to their relationship with Yabuki's promoter.
In the ring Yabuki is a really good boxer-puncher, or more of a puncher-boxer if we're being honest. He's one of the hardest punchers at 108lbs, and like many punchers wants to create space to have full extension on his shots. He does that through a combination of solid footwork, and being something of a physical freak at the weight with long arms and a lean body. Unlike most puncher's he's not really an out and out aggressive fighter, though he certainly has that in his locker, and instead looks to create openings before landing his power shots, and either hurting them and going for a finish, or breaking them down as the bout goes on. As we saw in the first match with Kenshiro, when he has has his man hurt he can really put his shots together, and he is a natural finisher. He's not the quickest, or the sharpest, but he's hard hitting, well schooled, understands his advantages, and with such a big win against Kenshiro last time out, he'll be full of confidence, self belief and determination to keep a hold of the WBC title.
Although Yabuki is something of an unknown outside of Japan it's fair to say that Kenshiro had something of an international following prior to his loss to Yabuki. He had gotten attention early in his career due to his name and impressive performance, and within just a few years of his debut he had quickly raced through the rankings, winning the WBC title with a close decision win over Ganigan Lopez. After struggling in his first defense, a narrow in over Pedro Guevara, Kenshiro began to impressive, and defended the title against Gilberto Pedroza, Gangigan Lopez, Milan Melindo, Saul Juarez, Jonathan Taconing, Randy Petalcorin and Tetsuya Hisada. He had a solid claim as the best fighter in the division, in terms of resume and in terms of ability. Sadly though Kenshiro's career has had issues the last few years, including a drunk incident that forced his bout with Hisada to be delayed and contracting Covid 19 just weeks before the originally scheduled date for his bout with Yabuki. He also appeared to be quietly dropped by Fuji TV, who had carried most of his world title bouts before the Hisada bout, and didn't fight at all in 2020.
In the ring Kenshiro, at his best, is a brilliant boxer. He's light on his feet, intelligent, creates space for his sharp punches, mixes his shots up well, and has one of the best jabs in the sport. In fact he pretty much shut down Melindo with his jab in 2018. He also has under-rated power, wonderful placing of his body shots, and the ability to take opponents apart with his accuracy, timing and variety. Notanly Kenshiro really can do it all, and is just as comfortable taking the fight to an opponent as he is boxing and moving, picking his spots and punishing mistakes, which he does draw a lot of for counter opportuntiies. Looking at flaws he does have a knack of dropping his defense on his way out, and backing up in straight lines. There are also question marks to be had about his confidence and mental state coming into this bout, and whether or not Covid has had a lasting effect on him. If it does he may well be in trouble here. It's also worth asking just how committed he is to sport, and what hunger he still has following his title loss last year.
Going in to the first bout we expected Kenshiro to have a fair straight forward task with Ybuki, though we did suggest that Yabuki had a chance late on if Kenshiro slowed down. We feel that Covid, and the issues Kenshiro had getting back into shape following the illness had a major impact on that first fight. With that in mind we'll against be backing Kenshiro to win here, and avenge his loss. However we do wonder if we'll get the same Kenshiro that managed 8 world title defenses, and if not he could be in trouble again here, against a man we don't think will want to easily hand back the title.
We expect Kenshiro to start well, and to then conserve energy in the middle rounds, expecting a big Yabuki finish and keeping something in reserve for those late rounds. In rounds 9, 10, 11 and 12 we expect to see Kenshiro then putting the jets back on, and out working Yabuki to take a competitive decision win.
Predcition - UD12 Kenshrio
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.