Friday, 3 January 2014

Argenis Mendez v Rances Barthelemy

After 2013 closed with 2 Super Featherweight title fights it may come as a surprise to some that 2014 begins with another title fight in the same division, this time for the IBF title as champion Argenis Mendez (21-2-1, 11) looks to make the second defense of his title.

Mendez, a defensively smart though occasionally lazy fighter from the Dominican Republic, came perilously close to losing his title last time out in an excellent encounter with Arash Usmanee. Unfortunately for Mendez he did what he so often does and failed to put forward an effort for 3 minutes of every round. When he did work he looked sensational but all to often he let Usmanee work hard and mark rounds close.

At his best Mendez is one of the best counter punchers in the sport. He is capable of standing his ground, blocking and slipping shots before landing his own counters in return, often with interest on them. This power of Mendez's was seen in style when he won the title last year stopping Juan Carlos Salgado.

Mendez will be fighting against talented Cuban Rances Barthelemy (19-0, 12), a rangy and skilled boxer-puncher who, like Mendez, can look incredible one moment and second rate the next.

Although a Cuban Barthelemy doesn't have the super skills of some of his compatriots, he's well schooled but not that touch of genuine genius that you see in Guillermo Rigondeaux, Erislandy Lara or even Yuriorkis Gamboa. When he gets going however he's incredibly good with solid defense and good rangy punches.

It's those rangy punches that Barthelemy will need to make good use of as he has 2" advantage in both height and reach. If he allows Mendez to get close then the champion will slip shots and come back with intelligent and sharp counters that will genuine dictate the fight. Although 2" isn't a huge advantage it's something that he'll need to make use of.

The biggest advantage for Mendez isn't his more complete boxing skills but for me it's his better level of competition. The Dominican has fought the likes of Martin Honorio, Juan Carlos Salgado and Cassius Baloyi all of whom are more proven than Barthelemy. If Mendez can use that experience to his benefit I imagine he'll manage to come out on what I view as a very competitive bout.

Although I view Mendez as the favourite I'd advise gamblers to have a small, bet on Barthelemy who looks to be great value at 15/8.

Prediction-Mendez SD12

Monday, 30 December 2013

Takashi Uchiyama v Daiki Kaneko

One of the final world title bouts of the year is an all-Japanese clash between WBA Super Featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama (20-0-1, 17) and fellow Japanese fighter Daiki Kaneko (19-2-3, 12). The bout, to those outside of Japan, looks like a mismatch with Uchiyama being a clear favourite though from the view of many Japanese fans this is a truly outstanding match-up between the best in the world and one of the top contenders from around the world.

Whilst fans in the US and the Europe won't know much about Kaneko he's a genuinely credible fighter. He's currently on an excellent 16 fight unbeaten run which has seen him claim the Japanese national title and make several defenses of the belt. The 16 fight streak has seen Kaneko develop markedly and score 10 KO's taking his record from 6-2 (2) to 19-2-3 (12).

Aged 25 Kaneko is young, quickly maturing and a fighter who has really developed. He was once a light hitting teenager though now appears to he a heavy hitting man with solid straight shots and an ever improving technique.

Although Kaneko, despite significant improvements, will be the under-dog he will be a live one against Uchiyama, a man many feel is the premier Super Featherweight on the planet.

At his best Uchiyama is a destructive, strong and powerful fighter who control the distance of the fight well walking down his opponents well before unloading with either powerful single shots or devastating combinations. Although a huge puncher Uchiyama has shown an incredible patience in many of his fights, applying intelligent pressure with out forcing the issue too much.

Aged 34 Uchiyama is probably on the slide slightly whilst Kaneko is improving however though with his style being so intelligent Uchiyama has generally avoided wars. The one time he has been hurt was when he faced Takashi Miura and even though he was dropped hard there he recovered used his boxing and came back to stop Miura. Although not young he's probably fresher than most other 34 year old fighters and with his power it could be just a matter of time here.

From where I'm sat I favour Uchiyama to take a few rounds to see what Kaneko has, force the younger man to work hard and then find open opportunities before unloading on the young challenger who makes it into the second half of the fight but not too much further.

Prediction-Uchiyama TKO8

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Takashi Miura v Dante Jardon

Japanese fighters fighting on New Years Eve is nothing new, in fact it's been a tradition over the last few years. This year however we end up with a potential FOTY of the year coming on new years eve as WBC Super Featherweight champion Takashi Miura (26-2-2, 19) takes on free swinging Mexican Danta Jardon (24-3, 20).

Fans who have followed either fighter over the last few years will know how entertaining they can be by themselves. When you put them together though, one must expect fireworks, one must expect a war and one anticipates nothing short of breathtaking back and forth action. If you've not seen either I'd advise giving both men a watch before New Year's Eve, especially Miura's last fight which saw him going to war with Sergio Thompson.

Of the two men Miura is the more established. He's not just the WBC world champion but was also a Japanese national champion earlier in his career and a man who is widely regarded as a really top tier Super Featherweight. His first world title fight may have saw him coming unstuck against Takashi Uchiyama but it was obvious from that fight that he had real potential to do something special himself.

Since the loss to Uchiyama in January 2011 we've seen Miura score 6 straight wins, including notable title fight victories over both Gamaliel Diaz and Sergio Thompson. It's those two fights in particular that have made Miura so well known with hard core fans. He's proven to be tough, hard working and an explosive puncher, despite the fact his record only makes him look like an above average hitter.

Jardon, at least on paper, is the bigger hitter though also the slightly less tough fighter. The Mexican challenger, dubbed "Crazy", has been known for being very fun to watch with a wild punching style and an aggressive mindset. It's not always worked for him but on the whole it's been successful with very few opponents managing to make him pay for his wild style.

At his best Jardon is a real threat, at his worst though he's just a single counter from going to sleep. Saying that I think for this fight, his first world title fight, he will tidy up what he does in the ring and fight a more intelligent fight than usual. He'll not manage to become Guillermo Rigondeaux over-night but he'll show a level of restraint that one wouldn't expect from seeing him.

Although I expect a slightly restrained Jardon I don't expect him to be able to curb his natural mindset and as a result this will become a war. A few slow, casual rounds might occur at the start but by the midway point this will become a real, all out war. Who ever can take the more damage will win the war and personally I favour Miura to be that man.

Prediction-Miura TKO11

Kazuto Ioka v Felix Alvarado

For Japanese boxing fans 2013 has been a very interesting year with various fighters making statements, either positive or negative, in the ring. One of those was men was Kazuto Ioka (13-0, 9) who unfortunately avoided a clash with Roman Gonzalez, though did stop two experienced Thai's in a year that saw him retaining his WBA Light Flyweight title.

Ioka ends the year with a fight that sees him battling the highly touted Nicaraguan puncher Felix Alvarado (18-0, 15), it may not be Gonzalez but it's still an unbeaten South American puncher who has a fast growing reputation as a genuine danger-man at 108lbs.

The fight, which will see Ioka making his third and likely final defense of the Light Flyweight title, is one of those rare ones that not only sees both men having unbeaten records but also having records that make both of them look like punchers. Unfortunately though the knockouts of Alvarado have come at a low level with the Nicaraguan being untested anywhere near the world level.

What doesn't help Alvarado isn't just the level of competition but his over-all experience. Despite being in 18 fights the Nicaraguan has only amassed 51 rounds, less than 3 a fight. This is a worry with Alvarado having never gone 12 rounds and having only a single bout that has gone beyond the 6 round distance a real worry in terms of his stamina.

Alvarado is dangerous, especially early, though after the first few rounds it seems that he runs out of ideas and if a fighter can take his power they can certainly give him trouble.

For Ioka the real risk to his title comes in the first 3, or possibly 4 rounds. If the Japanese fighter can see out the expected early storm then I fancy that his experienced and more rounded skills will see him slow picking apart Alvarado who will begin to tire around the middle rounds.

Ioka isn't nearly the puncher that Alvarado looks, at least on paper though he's a very clean puncher who finds a home for his jab and straight. His straight right hand to the body is the real danger punch and I imagine that a tiring Alvarado will feel the effects of them in the middle to late rounds. Ioka has proven capable at pacing himself with an average fight length of more than 7 rounds and this, as well as the fact he has been facing stiff opponents will be the difference between the two men.

Prediction-Ioka TKO9

Friday, 20 December 2013

Stuart Hall v Vusi Malinga

Although there are a number of world title fights this week, as we head towards the new year, I'd argue, from a personal view, that the most important is the IBF Bantamweight title fight between Britain's Stuart Hall (15-2-1, 7) and South African Vusi Malinga (21-4-1, 12). The fight, for the vacant controversially stripped from Jamie McDonnell, may not be one that has the casual fans frothing at the mouth but it is a fight that could well set the tone for 2014's Bantamweight division.

On the international stage it's Malinga who is best known having fought on foreign soil 3 times. His world journey has seen him fighting in Thailand where he defeated the great Veeraphol Sahaprom, In Japan where he was stopped inside a round by the hugely under-rated Hozumi Hasegawa and in the US where he took Leo Santa Cruz 12 rounds.

As well as those 3 bouts on the road against world level opponents Malinga also holds a win over Alberto Rossel, the Peruvian man who currently holds the WBA interim Light Flyweight title.

Unfortunately for Malinga his record is mainly against fellow South African fighters or visitors to South Africa. Many of those fighters, at best, were limited. These include fighters like Filipino veteran Michael Domingo and Jerope Mercado, with the Mercado bout ending in a hugely controversial draw.

Malinga is tough though not the most skilled. He's not a fighter to get into a war with but he can be out-warred as he was against Santa Cruz and against Hasegawa who hurt him early and jumped on him. The best way to beat him though seems to be to out box him. In terms of his boxing ability he's nothing special, slightly better than your typical "teak tough" African but far from being special.

Talking about being nothing special the same could also be said for Hall who is again far from being a special fighter. That's not meant as an insult but when compared with Shinsuke Yamanaka or Anselmo Moreno there is a gulf of difference between them.

Hall's key strength is his tenacity. He'll always work hard even if he lacks the power, speed or skill to beat the genuinely top fighters. His limitations, like those of Malinga, have been shown up at the world level with Hall losing to Jamie McDonnell, who went on to claim a world title, and Lee Haskins who won the European title against Hall though lost in his first defence to Stephane Jamoye.

Hall, at 30 years old, is the younger man by several years though that advantage may be neutralised by the fact Malinga is more experienced, has a higher level of experience and is naturally bigger with a 2" height advantage and a 5" reach advantage. If he can make the most of those advantages then we expect Malinga to take a decision. Hall however has promised a war and that will see him trying to get inside the reach of Malinga and working up close. If he can do that then he may be able to wear down Malinga late. Odds however do favour Malinga and we'd go with them.

Prediction-Malinga TKO10

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Kiko Martinez v Jeffrey Mathebula

World title fights in Spain aren't a regular thing though this weekend sees us getting one as the hard hitting Kiko Martinez (29-4, 21) looks to make the first defense of his IBF Super Bantamweight title. The bout, an early Christmas present for Spanish fans, isn't just a bout that sees a local man defending his world title but sees him doing so against another world level fighter in the form of South African Jeffrey Mathebula (27-4-2, 14), a former holder of this very title.

Martinez shocked the boxing world just a few months back when he traveled to America and beat up the then champion Jhonatan Romero in a real career defining performance. Despite being written off by many, including myself, Martinez took his chance and battered the previously unbeaten Romero around the ring forcing the referee to save Romero near the end of round 6.

This time around their is expectation on Martinez's shoulders as he's the defending champion and he's the man fighting at home. Surprisingly this isn't just the highest profile bout Martinez has had in Spain but is also his first fight there since April 2011 when he beat Jason Booth for the European Super Bantamweight title.

With Martinez you know what you get. A bulldozer type fighter who hasn't got a reverse gear, he's a man who goes into the ring with a seek and destroy mentality, heavy hands and solid work rate. He's crude, can be out boxed and does make mistakes but if he can connect on you he can break you down, so he's never a fighter that you want to exchange with.

Whilst Martinez is well known to Europeans Mathebula is much less well known, despite one major fight that was televised on the world stage against Nonito Donaire. In the Donaire fight we saw that Mathebula was a busy fighter who used his freakish height and reach decently, though not amazingly. His jab seemed to be his key shot and is very, very busy though he lacks power on them and Donaire seemed happy to take one or two of them to land one of his own thudding shots.

It wasn't the work rate of Mathebula that impressed the most against Donaire but instead his toughness. He was hurt, wobbled and downed though fought on with a broken facial bone and continued to fight back. This heart and toughness was incredible even if he was struggling late as a result of his injury.

The toughness of Mathebula will serve him well here but he could be in major problems if Martinez can get inside him and break him down with body shots, something Donaire neglected to throw, as well as the hooks that are a key part of his game. The jab of Mathebula needs to be accurate and forceful to make Martinez think twice, if it's not then this fight could be very much a massacre by Martinez.

Prediction-Martinez TKO7

Omar Andres Narvaez v David Carmona

Although I believe Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is the best fighter at 115lbs the best boxer there, at least for now, is Argentinian veteran Omar Andres Narvaez (40-1-2, 21). Narvaez, the long term WBO champion is a man who, at 38 years old, has been denying father time like no one else in the lower weights.

Although thoroughly ancient for a Super Flyweight Narvaez has shown he still has all the traits of a man who isn't really on the slide as much as some would like. He's still sharp, fast, able to throw lovely blazing combinations and is still light on his feet. He may be 38 but he fighters like a man who is only in his 20's.

Whilst he still has the speed and style of a younger man Narvaez's key issue is that he lacks lights out power. He can break guys down over the course but no single shot he lands will have guys thinking twice and as a result he can be forced to fight a little harder than a man of his skills perhaps should. Thankfully his flurries of shots do tend to wear opponents down either physically or mentally.

Narvaez defends his title once again this weekend as he takes on the once beaten David Carmona (16-1-4, 8) of Mexico. Carmona the WBO Youth Super Flyweight champion is by far the younger man though with that also comes the fact he is untested near the same level as Narvaez.

In his 21 bouts to date Carmona's most notable foe has been been, well none of them really. Carmona has fought no one of note, no one nearly world class and no one who could possibly have prepared him for someone like Narvaez. That's not to say Carmona isn't talented but his talented has only been shown as a much, much, much lower level than that of Narvaez.

As for the bout it's fair to say that gulf in opponent will show up here. Carmona will go to win but will quickly discover that Narvaez isn't just an old man. Carmona's shots will be picked off and his body and head tagged almost at will by Narvaez.

Whilst Carmona hasn't shown durability issues he's also not shown the ability to do 12 rounds. With that in mind I expect Narvaez to pick up the pace late and force a stoppage against a tiring Carmona in the final 3 rounds.

Prediction-Narvaez TKO11