Over the last few years the lower weight classes have given us some of the best fights. We got another of those earlier today as WBO Light Flyweight champion Donnie Nietes (36-1-4, 21) successfully defended his title in a 12 round war with tough Mexican Francisco Rodriguez Jr (17-3-1, 11).
The first minute of the fight was slow, really slow. From then on however the action picked up and by the end of the opening stanza it seemed we may have been heading towards a FOTY contender. The action was forced by Rodriguez, who kept coming forward, and Neites responded by holding his feet and going toe-to-toe with the Mexican, landing some very sharp and accurate shots.
In the second round we saw real drama as Nietes, who had looked great for the first 2 minutes, was tagged by a right hand. The shot seemed to stun him for a second or two as he was forced to hold on and see out the round that could easily have been stolen from him. The effects of the shots at the end of round 2 seemed to still be taking their toll early in round 3 as Nietes began to fight on the back foot and no get dragged into a relentless brawl with the Mexican. The round was one of the bouts closest and could have gone either way.
Nietes's stemmed the tide slightly in round 4 as he began finding his range and timing Rodriguez with counters. The Mexican kept bringing the pressure though he seemed to struggle to actually land much in turned of punches whilst Nietes managed to get to the body of the challenger. It was a tough round for Nietes but one that he seemed to just win.
Through 4 rounds the fight was close though in the 5th round it seemed that the Filipino changed his tactics, began to move more and draw Rodriguez on to his shots. It was an excellent change from the experienced champion who quickly found a home for his uppercut which landed almost at will through out the round. It was a shot that made the most of Rodriguez's flaws and seemed to take some of the fight out of the challenger who was again second best in the 6th round.
Going into the second half of the fight it seemed like Nietes was going to run away with it though the Mexican managed to fight back well in round 7 and again in round 8 as the Mexican found a second wind and kept the rounds ultra-competitive. It was hard work for both and it was being fought at a gruelling pace with Rodriguez refusing to take a backwards step and Neites being forced to fight fire with fire.
The pace of the fight began to take it's toll on both men in round 9 with both visibly slowing and tiring. Despite the place slowing the level of skill on offer was still high and both had their moments with combinations and eye catching shots. Unfortunately for the Mexican however it seemed he was in a hole and was going to need to do a lot to turn things around. The challenger tried in round 10 though Neites managed to find the space to get his jab going, the energy to get on his toes and do enough to just nick a close round, though one that could easily have swung the other way.
Nietes began round 11 boxing on the back foot and having real success with his counters whilst Rodriguez's face began to look more and more swollen. The Mexican proved his toughness by continuing to come forward but for 2 minutes of the round he was second best. The final minute however saw the round swing with Nietes getting hurt with a body shot and going on the retreat whilst holding and spoiling. It was a round that could have gone either way though seemed to suggest that Nietes could be in trouble in the final round.
Going into the final round it was clear that Rodriguez would need a KO to win, he had made a lot of rounds close but as the visitor, and challenger, it was unlikely that he was going to get those rounds in his favour. Unfortunately for him he seemed to have the fight take out of him as Neites caught him early in the round and appeared to leave him with a broken nose. From then on the two did little other than move around each other until Rodriguez came forward very late in the round, by then however it was too little too late.
Given the fact there had been numerous close rounds we were expecting a series of “close but competitive” looking cards in favour of the Filipino. Sadly however only one card showed the competitive nature of the bout as the judges cards read 115-113, 119-109 and 118-110. They had all got the right guy winning, but at least two of those cards failed to show any real fairness of the bout we had witnessed.
The win for Nietes cements his position as one of the top Light Flyweights on the planet, the question however is where does he go next? There is talk of a move to Flyweight for a potential clash with Roman Gonzalez however unification bouts with Pedro Guevara, Ryoichi Taguchi and Javier Mendoza would also being attractive match ups, as would an all-Filipino contest with the hard hitting Jonathan Taconing.
As for Rodriguez we hope to see him back in the ring as soon as his nose recovers, though maybe at a lower level as he's had a lot of gruelling fights in recent times and his body needs an easy fight or two before another fight at the championship level. We also expect to see him move up to Flyweight sooner rather than later.
After non-stop complaints by boxing fans who had tuned in to see the predictably mismatched action on Showtime we then got the hardcore fans who moved on to the action from Mexico which always looked like the best part of the weekend. That was because we had two of the best Minimumweights on the planet trading leather to become a unified champion, a champion of champions.
The fight pitted Japan's Katsunari Takayama, the IBF champion, against Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr, the WBO champion. We knew it was going to be good, in fact we knew it was going to be great. And if we're being honest the fight exceeded even our high expectations in many ways, though one thing did leave us with a sour taste, more about that later however.
Going in the bout was going to be decided on two things. Did Takayama have the speed and stamina to out work, out move and out land Rodriguez? And did Rodriguez have the power and strength to hurt Takayama? At the end we ended up having both questions landed in the affirmative leading to a thoroughly compelling and action packed fights that, if compubox was in use, could have set punch number records.
In the opening round it was clearly Takayama's speed and movement that decided who won it. Rodriguez looked slow and sloppy though very strong as the pro-Mexican crowd chanted "Chihuas", the Mexican's nickname. In the second round however things became more competitive with Takayama starting the round very well before being rocked in the final 30 seconds or so. Takayama was already being warned for holding, despite the holding being kept to a real minimum, and was already being forced to stand his ground and trade. Although we gave Takayama round 2 we could understand others scoring it to Rodriguez, it was one of those plain old "swing rounds".
Unfortunately for Takayama round 3 wasn't a swing round as the Japanese fighter was dropped. He was up as quickly as he was down but the round was still going to be a 10-8, though he did make a good effort of trying to erase the knock down, in fact if he was at home the chances are he may have managed to have won the round making it a 10-9. Away from home however that never really happens.
Although rounds 1 and 3 were clear cut not many of the others were and rounds 4 and 5 were both swing rounds impossible to call for certain either way. Takayama tried to win them on work rate alone, unloading flurries to the body up close ad measuring with a jab as he picked his raids carefully whilst Rodriguez tried to claim them with the heavy handed assault that he's going to make his trademark over the decade. Both rounds really were rounds that you could argue for either man with great give and take.
Going into round 6 the scorecards really could have said anything. They could have been 48-47 to Takayama or 49-46 to Rodriguez depending on your reading of the fight. In fact it could well have been 49-48 if you'd have scored the 3 close rounds in the most fair manner you could, giving them each as 10-10 rounds, and we know it's rare but they really were impossible to split.
In round 6 we saw Rodriguez charge at Takayama in the early stages as he moved through the gears for the first minute of the round. Amazingly however for the final 2 minutes Takayama backed up the Mexican in what looked to have become a clear round for the Japanese fighter and a major turning point with Rodriguez then looking very tired. The exhausted look on Rodriguez continued in round 7 as Takayama appeared to easily bag another round and appeared to be on his way to unifying the titles. Rodriguez looked all in as if his assault to begin round 6 was him cashing in his chips.
Amazingly the Mexican suddenly looked refreshed in round 8 as he hurt Takayama at several points. Takayama was looking ready to go as the fight swung, yet again. By the end of the eighth it seemed almost certain that Takayama was on his way to being stopped and his usually bouncing toes were now flat feet, his work rate has dissipated and he appeared to be kept in the fight on heart alone.
The heart of Takayama seemed to kick in again in round 9 as he was forced to stand and trade almost from the off as Rodriguez came out in search of a stoppage. Luckily for Takayama he was able to recoup his legs a little bit as Rodriguez continually threw some wild shots that missed by a mile, though when he connected Rodriguez really did look to hurt the Japanese fighter who stood his ground for the last 40 seconds as the two men went toe-to-toe. They started round 10 as they ended round 9, stood in front of each other unloading shots, showing reckless abandon in he search of that punch that would drop their foe and help them to victory. At the end of the round both men seemed to be looking for hail Mary's.
Going in to the championship rounds it seemed like the fight had swung just enough in the favour of Rodriguez that the titles were going to stay in Mexico. Suddenly however at the start of round 11 drama, and a little bit of controversy, struck as Rodriguez went down in his corner. Was it a knockdown or a slip? It was ruled a slip though on replay it was a hard one to call and had it been ruled a knockdown it would have neutralised the one scored by the Mexican in round 3. By the end of the 11h the knockdown/slip question was all but forgotten as the men stood trading and flailing punches at each other. It was insane as both men just stood firing bombs at each other as if the fight needed to be won by knock out.
The final round saw Takayama slip in exactly the same corner as Rodriguez's incident in the previous round. That slip was early on but for the following 2 minutes they men against stood toe-to-toe trading, bombing each other and trying to score the stoppage they may well have felt they needed. They were fighting themselves to a standstill as the insane and hyper-active fight continued to be fought in the most impressive of manners. It was a war and it was amazing to watch.
After 12 rounds the general view here was that Rodriguez had nicked it by a round or two, being helped by the crowd to just sneak the majority of the swing rounds. When the first score was read out as 116-111 we nodded in the agreement, then a score of 119-109 was read as our stomachs turned before a final card of 115-112 made us nod in agreement. The cards, which all favoured the Mexican seemed to get the right winner but we were left genuinely baffled by the wide card which seemed to be very off, even for a bout that had as many swing rounds as this one.
Takayama looked dejected having failed in his attempt to collect the grandslam whilst Rodriguez rightfully celebrated winning what could go down as one of the fights of the year. Sensational bout.
Takayama, who fell to 27-7-0-1 (10) is now 2-3-0-1 on the road and may well think twice about ever fighting outside of Japan again. He has been a road warrior but may well feel that it's not worth travelling when some judges, such as John Madfis on this occasion, have seemingly marked their cards before the fight has began. In fact he may well call it quits or try to secure a rematch back in Japan. For Rodriguez, now 15-2 (10), this leaves him as one of the top dogs at 105lbs following back to back wins over Merlito Sabillo and Takayama.
As for the Minimumweight division we're now poised for a few interesting months. Talk of a rematch between these two is something Takayama and fans would likely love, WBA champion Hekkie Budler is set to defend his title against former WBC champion Xiong Zhao Zhong, current WBC champion Oswaldo Novoa is set to defend against the unbeaten Wanheng Menayothin in Thailand in November and we're also expecting a WBA interim title fight between Carlos Buitrago and Knockout CP Freshmart in October. Whatever happens in the coming months this division is going to be red hot at the top and possible deeper, especially if Kosei Tanaka gets his wish and gets a fight with OPBF champion Ryuji Hara. What a time to be a fan of the Minimumweight division.
(Image courtesy of Nakazato Boxing)
When a fighter travels across the world the one thing that many fear is that the judging will go against them when a crowd roars on a local fighter. Sometimes however the judges aren't needed and rather than relying on them make a decision the home fighter looks to avoid controversy.
We had no real controversy this past Saturday when Filipino fighter Merlito Sabillo (23-1-1, 12) had his WBO Minimumweight ripped from him by talented and hard hitting Mexican Francisco Rodriguez Jr (14-2, 10).
Sabillo, who won the title last year in Colombia, was widely expected to know too much and be too good for the Mexican challenger. Instead we found out that the Mexican was too big, too strong, too powerful and too aggressive for the usually tough Filipino.
The Mexican's power and strength were clear from the opening round and by the end of round 2 Sabillo had already been knocked down and wrestled down. It was clear that Sabillo would be forced to dig deep just to survive never mind win.
Having gotten off to a perfect start Rodriguez seemed to quickly grow in confidence and kept up an intense pressure, non stop offensive work and a vicious body attack. Sabillo, to his credit, tried to answer back but it was simply too much, Rodriguez wasn't going to be denied no matter what Sabillo did and round after round you could see Sabillo wilting having his resistance chipped away at.
Sabillo's fate was effectively sealed in round 4, his best round. The Filipino managed to land some solid shots that seemed to just bounce off the challenger. It was as if Rodriguez was saying "you can hit me, but you can't hurt me" and if Sabillo still had any belief in himself it then vanished.
No matter what Sabillo did the challenger just kept coming with wave after wave of attacks, he was hell bent on stopping the Filipino and in rounds 8 and 9 things were beginning to get painful to watch. Sabillo was beginning to get genuinely battered and it looked like it was going to continue to the end of the fight. Thankfully though Sabillo's trainer seemed to know that his man was done and mid way through round 10 he signalled to referee Eddie Claudio to finish the contest, saving Sabillo before too much damage was done physically.
With this loss the Philippines are left with just 2 world champions, Donnie Nietes and Johnriel Casimero but of who now have the hopes of the Philippines on their shoulder with their up coming title defenses.
(Photo courtesy of Zanfer promociones)
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.