It's pretty fair to say that 2021 was a poor year. A really frustrating year that many of us would love to scrub from our memories. Sadly the disappointment of much of the year continued right through to the final world title bout of the year as WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (28-2, 15) [井岡一翔] retained his title in a damp squib of a bout with fellow Japanese fighter Ryoji Fukunaga (15-5, 14) [福永亮次].
The bout, put on on short notice when Japoan closed it's borders and Fukunaga was a late replacement for Jerwin Ancajas, promised something. Especially given how Fukunaga had been gifted a win in October against Hayate Kaji. It seemed, in paper, like the idea bout for Ioka to show his counter punching skills, like he did a year again ago against the brilliant Kosei Tanaka.
Instead the bout had very much the feeling of an under-enthusued champion, taking on a domestic level challenger and simply going through the motions.
From round 1 it was obvious the two men were on totally different skill levels, but that the challenger was significantly hungrier for the bout than the champion, neutralising some of the skill difference. Fukunaga looked like someone who wanted to win, Ioka on the other hand looked like a man who was happy to go through the motions without coming close to top gear, or even second top gear.
Round by round Fukunaga had success with his jab, and landed the occasional big left hand, but they did little to get Ioka's respect, at least on the whole, whilst Ioka found holes for good combinations up top and the solid body shot. Sadly they were few and far between from the champion, but they were enough to take a lot of rounds. Fukunaga tried, and it's a good thing he did, but he was often lacking that bit of quality and his power looked toothless at world level.
Thankfully Fukunaga did do enough every tound to keep Ioka from falling asleep, but never did enough to make Ioka get out of cruise control,. He landed he landed some good left hands, but Ioka always took the play away with a nice combination, a good body shot and a glimpse of what he could do. It was like a parent playing with a child for the most part.
Sadly for Ioka we never came close to seeing the best of him. That, in the final rounds, was really disappointing and instead we saw Fukunaga come on strong, especially in round 11 as he seemed to hurt Ioka with a body shot, but it was too little too late and Ioka, whilst hurt, wasn't close to being damaged goods, seeing out the round, and cruising through the final 3 minutes en route to a decision victory, with scores of 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113
After 12 rounds Ioka was the clear winner, but he fought like someone happy to just get through the bout and eye bigger things in 2022, like the rest of us. Fukunaga, who was game but second best through out, put up a good effort but was clearly second best and really looked like he had nothing other than heart and determination to offer at this level. He tried to out box Ioka, which was a poor gameplan, even against an Ioka who looked completely unmotivated.
Fingers crossed 2022 will bring a major opponents for Ioka and will see Fukunaga face off in a rematch with Hayate Kaji, after their hugely controversial October bout. On this performance Ioka needs a top opponent to get the best from him whilst Fukunaga, for all his willing and determination, is missing world class traits.
This past Tuesdays in the Dominican Republic fight fans had the chance to see a WBA "regular" Minimumweight title bout, as Filipino fighter Vic Saludar (21-5, 11) travelled to Santa Domingo and faced talented 21 year old Erick Rosa (5-0, 1). Sadly for Saludar it wouldn't be his night, at least not in the eyes of the judges.
From the off Rosa looked the quicker, smarter fighter, using the ring well, whilst Saludar looked to press from center ring. It didn't make for the most exciting of opening rounds, but both men certainly had moments, and it was clear where both fighters felt their strengths were and it was clear that Saludar was, by far, the heavier handed and the naturally stronger.
The pace slowly moved up a gear in round 2 as both got out of first gear and started to let their hands go more. It was again clear that Rosa wanted to be the boxer, creating space, luring Saludar into a mistake to counter. Saludar however maintained his concentration and brought a lot of intelligent, and patient, pressure. He refuses to give Rosa the openings the challenger wanted, and when he did land it heavy single shots from Saludar that caught the eye.
In round 3 one of Rosa's counter shots, an excellent left hand, sent Saludar to the canvas. He wasn't hurt, but he touched down, and it was a very clear knockdown in favour of the challenger.
Knowing he was down Saludar looked to turn things around, intensifying his pressure in round 4, and looked to make his physical traits count. This was where we really saw some of the smarted work from Sosa, who was forced to fight Saludar's fight but and had success. Despite the success of Rosa it was Saludar who caught the eye with his heavier blows. Sadly whilst Saludar's pressure through the middle of the rounds was solid, he remained the slower man and judges who liked the movement and speed of Rosa could easily have been scoring rounds for him, despite the better blows coming from the Filipino. There was, perhaps, a case to suggest that Saludar was following his man at times, rather than cutting the ring off, though he was still having plenty of success.
Sadly for Saludar he was ruled to have been knockdown a second time in round 9, although it certainly appeared more of a judo throw than a knockdown coming from a punch. Credit to Rosa however for the throw, which would have served him well had he competed as a Judoka in Tokyo this past summer. With a second 10-8 round against him, Saludar was in a hole, and he knew it, putting his foot on the gas again. This time Saludar had a break through, dropping Rosa in round 10 as his power showed it's self. Prior to the knockdown Rosa had been tagged a number of times, and it was clear that he didn't like tasting the power of Saludar, and after the knockdown he really got on his bike for the rest of the round.
Saludar looked to build on the knockdown in the final 2 rounds, but was unable to drop his man a second time, something he likely needed given the controversy in round 9. Sadly had it not been for that knockdown he would have retained his title with a split draw as the judges turned in scores of 113-112 and 116-109 to Rosa and 113-112 to Saludar.
Sadly for Saludar this is the second time he has lost a major fight in the America's, having also lost the WBO Minimumweight title to Wilfredo Mendez back in 2019. As for Rosa it was a good, albeit controversial, win, though it showed he is not ready for the top dogs in the division. Had this not been at home, and had the ridiculousness of Oscar Perez Carbonell scoring the bout, he would likely have come up short here. He isn't ready for the likes of WBA "super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart, though is clearly a promising young fighter, who has a lot of time to develop, mature and improve.
After more than 2 years of waiting Japanese fans had the chance to welcome local megastar Naoya Inoue (22-0, 19) [井上 尚弥] back to a Japanese ring earlier today, in what was his first bout at home since beating Nonito Donaire in the WBSS Bantamweight final, in November 2019. Not only did they say the Monster in action however, but they also got a bit of a show, as Inoue retained his WBA "Super" and IBF Bantamweight world titles and stopped the gutsy, but outclassed, Thai challenger Aran Dipaen (12-3, 11) [แก่นนคร ศักดิ์กรีรินทร์] at the Kokugikan in Tokyo.
The bout, regarded as a massive mismatch going in, served as a home coming for Inoue, and also served as the final world title bout to be held in Japan this year, with Dipaen getting in to the country before Japan close it's borders at the end of November. And in many ways it served it's task, with Dipaen serving as the perfect dance partner.
From the off Inoue was in control. He was too sharp, too fast, too accurate, too crisp and far, far too good. However Dipaen, unlike many Inoue foes, wasn't fearful of the champion and was instead there to change his life, to fight for the upset, and to try and score what would have been one of the biggest shocks of the year. Sadly for Dipaen his desire didn't match his ability, and he struggled, time and time again, to land anything clean, or to avoid the excellent left jab of Inoue's which landed thunderously, like a straight right hand.
Dipaen was out classed, coming off second best every minute of every round. He was however not there to make up the numbers and go away quietly. Instead he played the class clown, the joker, the entertainer, and goaded Inoue numerous times. Raising his hands and telling to bring it, whilst looking to get in his own hard shots. He was game, he was tough, and that was really all he had going for him. And unfortunately, toughness alone will never be enough against someone like Inoue, who began to target the body extensively, and really began hunting his man in round 6. Dipaen's toughness was keeping him upright, but Inoue was beginning to break him mentally and physically.
In round 8 the inevitable happened, as Dipaen was finally dropped and although he got back to his feet, he was done as Inoue went in for the finish and forced the referee to stop the action.
Following the bout Inoue and promoter Hideyuki Ohashi held a press conference. There they again mentioned that they were hoping to face either John Riel Casimero or Nonito Donaire in a 3 title unification bout. It seems however if those bouts can't be made he'll speed up the move to Super Bantamweight, rather than wasting time chasing bouts that won't happen. Inoue saying "I've been sticking to the Bantamweight class with an emphasis on unifying the four classes, but if it doesn't go smoothly, I'm thinking of the super bantamweight class." Thankfully the Super Bantamweight division is one of the best in the sport right now, even if it is a division lacking an A* star name, but Inoue moving there would add that huge name, to a division that has been over-delivering over the last few years.
Earlier today much of the hardcore boxing fan base, as well as the Japanese fan base, was focused on a show at the Kokugikan in Tokyo awaiting the return to a Japanese ring of the Monster Naoya Inoue. Prior to Inoue however there was another world title bout.
The world title bout saw Japanese local Masataka Taniguchi (15-3, 10) [谷口将隆] score a career best win and become the new WBO Minimumweight champion as he stopped Wilfredo Mendez (16-2, 6) in 11 rounds to dethrone the skilled Puerto Rican.
Coming in to the bout both men had serious questions to answer. For Taniguchi the question was whether or not he could win the big one. He had come up short in his three most notable bouts prior to this and was a worry among some fans in Japan that he just couldn't get over the line in his big fights. By the same token there was plenty of worries regarding Mendez's inactivity, given he hadn't fought in almost 2 years and had never fought in Asia before.
For those worrying about Taniguchi, their mind was to put ease early on as he controlled the distance for much of the first round, neutralising one of the big strengths of Mendez, who has long been a master at creating space, and using his jab. Mendez had moments through the first round, but he was certainly not controlling things like we'd seen from him in previous bouts. Taniguchi would then get another boost to his confidence as he dropped Mendez in round 2, from a hard straight left hand, showing his power was legitimate at world level.
To his credit Mendez got back to his feet, shook off the knockdown and looked composed when the bout resumed. Sadly for him however he was under pressure from round 4, as Taniguchi began to show his physical side. That was always something he had in his locked than Mendez didn't and it showed as he looked to impose his will on Mendez, making the defending champion work really hard to create space, burning energy and sapping his legs in the process. The pressure from Taniguchi wasn't always hugely effective, but it did it's job in taking the wind out of Mendez's legs, and gave him some counter opportunities at the same time. It also resulted in Mendez being deducted a point for holding in round 6 as he struggled to contain the pressure and determination of Taniguchi.
Being well behind Mendez knew he needed a big finish, and to his credit he tried. He had a fantastic round 8, using his crisp punches well to get Taniguchi's respect and he gritted his teeth to have strong rounds in the 9th and 10, but it came at a cost and he put a lot into those rounds, whilst being a very, very long way down.
In round 11 Taniguchi managed to hurt his man, who tried to get away and make space to clear his senses. Taniguchi however refused to let Mendez have the chance he needed, jumping on him and unloading on him, until the referee was forced to step in and save Mendez, 78 seconds into round 11.
At the time of the stoppage Mendez was the one needing a KO. He was done 97-91 on two cards and 95-93 on the other.
Earlier today fight fans in Thailand saw WBA Minimumweight "Super" champion Knockout CP Freshmart (23-0, 9) [น็อคเอาท์ ซีพีเฟรชมาร์ท] score his third defense of the "super" title as he stopped Filipino challenger Robert Paradero (18-2, 12) in 5 rounds in Thailand.
The bout started relatively slowly with Knockout looking to see what Paradero was bringing to the ring. To his credit Paradero did seem to bring real ambition and hunger, and he landed some really eye catching shots, using his reach and speed really well in the opening round, and backing up Knockout several times. It seemed, through the first round, as if the champion could be having his unbeaten record put under some serious threat. To his credit however Knockout showed great composure, and was able to cover up against the big shots of Paradero.
The challenger fought round 2 much like he had fought the opening round, but Knockout was starting to settle himself, landing some good jabs and nice counter right hands. He was slowly starting to get Paradero's respect, but the Filipino had some of the best moments of the round, and continued to back up Knockout, who would have known he was in a fight by the end of the round.
Sadly for Paradero as the rounds went on his speed slowed, his shots got wider, his defense more open and his aggression less effective. He had put a lot into the first few rounds, and whilst he had caught the eye, he had never really buzzed or hurt Knockout, who, who began to make things rougher and tougher for the challenger in round 4. In fact part way through round 4 it seemed almost as if Paradero had started to run out of ideas and energy, and he was bundled down, several times, late in the round. It was as if all the fight had started to leave him, before his wild desperation swings seemed to drop Knockout, who seemed to take another one when he was down.
In round 5 a tired looking Paradero was backing up as Knockout landed some solid looking body shots, further sapping the challenger who went down from a very odd looking shot up close. Paradero tried to beat the count but was stumbling and tumbled down for a second time, looking as if he had no idea where he was or what had happened.
Even on replay we're not totally sure the final shot was, but whatever it was it really messed Paradero up as he was stumbling around like he was wasted.
Last night in Carson, California we saw a rare-all Filipino world title fight as WBC champion Nonito Donaire (42-6, 28) took on mandatory challenged Reymart Gaballo (24-1, 20) in a bout to unify the WBC regular and interim titles.
On paper this looked really interesting. Donaire, at the age of 39, is ancient for a Bantamweight and to be fighting at world level at such an advanced age is amazing at the lower weights. On the other hand Gaballo had looked explosive, exciting and was coming into his physical prime. It seemed like maybe Gaballo would be the right man, in the right place at the right time, or alternatively Donaire was going to add another big win to his record as he continues to push back father time.
The opening round saw Donaire intelligent pressure his man, coming forward and making Gaballo fight off the back foot, something he has never been comfortable doing. Gaballo had moments where he came forward, and moments where he landed, but he looked constantly fearful of Donaire, and his timing and power. When Donaire landed it seemed to clearly take an effect on Gaballo, whilst Gaballo's shots never really phased Donaire. To his credit Gaballo was the quicker man, but and he had that edge, but that was neutralised by the timing of Donaire.
In round 2 Gaballo, usually an aggressive and exciting fighter, was forced to over-think, and look for single shots when Donaire made mistakes. It was clear that Gaballo was losing his self belief, and his in ring identity, well before Donaire clocked him with a big right hand 2 minutes into the round. A right hand that forced Gaballo to hold. Gaballo had moments boxing, moving, moving, moving and jabbing, but it felt like their was an inevitability about things, given how timid he was becoming and how Donaire's pressure was taking a toll.
Gaballo did have a good moment in round 3, getting Donaire's respect, and clearly having one of his best moments as he looked to kick start his effort, but it was merely a flash point in a round that quickly saw Donaire again force Gaballo on to the back foot, and again seemed to show the challenger being hurt. It was technical, tense, but the inevitability remained, and we got a reminder of that when Donaire landed some huge shots late in the round. It felt, sooner or later, like the power of Donaire was going to see off his man, unless Gaballo sold out and went for it.
Donaire, who seemed to get tuned in at the end of round 3, started round 4 well, landing several big shots in the opening minute. Gaballo tried to respond but his successes were limited, hitting the guard or missing completely. Donaire then seemed to go into seek an destroy mode, walking down Gaballo, forcing him to fire back and stand his ground. That left Gaballo in position for a brutal right hand to the mid section with dropped Gaballo. Gaballo did seem to get to his feet, but quickly dropped back to his knees, realising he was in far too much pain to continue.
Following the bout talk emerged of a rematch between Donaire and Naoya Inoue (21-0, 18) [井上 尚弥], who will defend his WBA "super" and IBF titles this coming Tuesday. Inoue and his promoter Hideyuki Ohashi have both mentioned the potential rematch, and if Inoue is successful next week it seems their focus will be on setting up this highly anticipated rematch.
Over in Russia earlier today we saw WBA Light Heavyweight "super" champion Dmitry Bivol (19-0, 11) retain his title as he easily over-came the bigger, but much more limited Umar Salamov (26-2, 19).
From the opening moments it was clear the two men didn't really belong in the ring together. Bivol, although visibly smaller, was so much quicker, sharper and cleaner with both his defense his offense. In fact he made Salamov look slower and clumsier than he actually is, and did saw whilst regularly standing just outside of Salamov's range, drawing right hands from the challenger for slip and counter.
For the first half of the fight it was easy, simple dominant work from Bivol who seemed to be fighting within himself and still completely controlling Salamov, who was punished when he did land, with Salamov's rare connects just spurring on Bivol to hurt his man.
In round 8 Salamov's face was clearly marking up and it was obvious he wasn't going to be able to turn this around. In fact if anything his corner should have been considering pulling him out of the bout. Instead they continued to leave him in the ring, hoping that he'd be able to land a fight changing shot. That resulted in him taking some really solid shots in round 9 as Bivol, for the first time, put his foot on the gas and looked for a finish, only for Salamov to see out the storm.
In the final rounds Salamov had a little more success, and did manage to get Bivol to back up and get his respect, but that was about the best he had as he continued to be out landed, worked, out boxed, out skilled and made to come off second best.
After 12 rounds we went to the score cards and all 3 judges scored it in favour of Bivol, though surprisingly all 3 judges managed to find sympathy rounds to Salamov, though that's all they were, late sympathy rounds for a man who had been well and truly beaten.
For a Bivol this was actually quite entertaining, something that his recent bouts haven't been, though it was clear that Salamov was very out of his depth and didn't belong in a world title bout. Fingers crossed a unification bout is next for Bivol, as that's the type of bout we feel he needs to show what he can really do, and that bouts like this do little so bring the best out of a fighter like him.
Just moments ago in Dubai we saw IBF Flyweight champion Sunny Edwards (17-0, 4) successfully retain his title, and record his first defense, as he out-pointed Filipino challenger Jayson Mama (16-1, 9) over 12 rounds in what was a messy fight, ruined further by some of the worst commentary we've heard in a long time.
The fight was really messy early on. It seemed Edwards was fighting the wrong fight and Mama was certainly not looking to keep the action clean. The messiness caused head clashes that left Edward cut on the hair line in round 2 and seemed to keep out of his usual gameplan in round 3, as he looked to punish Mama.
The Englishman, a brilliant technical boxer with lovely speed, footwork and movement, began to really found his groove in round 4, making Mama look third rate as he landed at will against the Filipino, who followed him but had no real success.
The skills of Edwards showed through the rest of the bout, and whilst he wasn't as flawless the commentary suggested, in what a laughable display of bum kissery, he was never in any real trouble, expect when he took a left hand to the body. That shot did more to keepo Edwards sharp afterwards than anything else, but it was a reminder that Mama was there to win, and was willing to throw shots, when he got close enough.
In round 10 we saw the bouts only knockdown, as Edwards caught Mama off balance sending him to the canvas but not hurting him. That resulted in the only 10-8 round of the fight, and lead to Mama trying to turn things around late on. Though he failed.
Given the messiness early on, and Mama having some success, it was clear this wasn't the shut out the commentary, who were gushing like Edwards' lover, were suggesting. But Edwards was the rightful, and very comfortable, winner, with scores of 118-109, twice, and 1117-110.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.