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)
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.