By Marcus Bellinger
The 8th edition of the World Series of Boxing is right around the corner and once again many of the best amateur boxers from around the world will compete in this unique format. For the second season running the 12 teams are split regionally into 3 groups of 4 although the Uzbek Tigers have been placed into group Americas. This year’s competition has 2 teams making their debut as the Croatian Knights will campaign in group Europe and the Indian Tigers are in Group Asia.
Back in 2012 a team from India which was called the ‘Mumbai Fighters’ was schedule to take part in the WSB but received insufficient support from the then federation. Amateur boxing in India went through a turbulent period between the London and Rio Olympics and the situation really came to a head when the IABF, (Indian Amateur Boxing Federation) was suspended by AIBA in 2014 for manipulation of elections in 2012.
A poor showing in the 2016 Olympics which saw India fail to pick up a single medal left things at a real crossroads but since the inception of the BFI, (Boxing Federation of India) under the presidency of Ajay Singh the sport has gained some much needed stability and results have really picked up.
2017 was a year of rebuilding and there were many promising signs, firstly at the Asian Championships in Tashkent Uzbekistan where the country picked up 2 silver and 2 bronze medals and qualified 7 boxers for the Hamburg world championships. Gaurav Bidhuri, who incidentally earned his spot through a wildcard, took his chance with both hands as he achieved a world Bronze in Germany in the bantamweight division. Light flyweight Amit Panghal and flyweight Kavinder Singh Bisht reached the quarter-finals and showed they are more than capable of competing with the elite.
Multiple medals were won at the Asian Youth and Junior tournaments and light flyweight Sachin Siwach and heavyweight Naman Tanwar are 2 of India’s top talents and both have the potential to be an integral part of the nation’s future in the upcoming years. Women’s boxing is also in good shape with plentiful success and the Asian Championships and the Asian Youth Championships which were held in Guwahati. A further boost came when India was awarded the 2021 world championships which will take place in Delhi and the women’s world championships also take place in the country this year. The national elite championships for both men and women are now an annual part of the calendar giving youngsters a chance to test themselves against the best in the country.
In terms of the WSB the Tigers are straight in at the deep end when they face current holders and 3-time winners the Astana Arlans, a tough Russian Patriot Boxing Team and the China Dragons whose results haven’t been spectacular but have had a few years of experience in the 5 round format. Whilst Shiva Thapa and Manoj Kumar have had some brief experience competing for other franchises for most of the Indian fighters this will be a totally new experience with the extra 2 rounds and the high intensity of the bouts in the WSB but it is one which they should all look forward to and one where they should only benefit from.
Given the team format and roughly 2 hour time slot hopefully a major broadcast deal can be obtained in the next few years to give the Tigers a real profile boost. Finally with a solid infrastructure in place and if the upward trajectory continues then there is no reason why India can’t be a major force in amateur boxing in the next decade especially with so much young talent coming through.
By Marcus Bellinger
2017 wasn’t just about numerous terrific fights, big events and a new generation of stars establishing themselves, it was also a year where we saw a spate of high profile retirements from the sport with fighters such as Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Marquez and Andre Ward calling it a day.
Japan also had its fair share of retirements with the likes of Katsunari Takayama, Takashi Uchiyama and Takashi Miura calling it quits but arguably the most notable pugilist to hang up the gloves was Kazuto Ioka with an official announcement coming on New Year’s Eve. With rumours swirling for a while of a vehement disagreement with his father which led to the relinquishment of his flyweight world title the announcement wasn’t a huge surprise to those who follow the Japanese scene.
In this piece we take a look back at the career of one of Japans most recognizable figures of recent times and review the impact he had in the land of the rising sun and on the sport of boxing.
Ioka was aiming to follow in the footsteps of his uncle Hiroki who was a world champion at 105 and 108 lbs. After running up an amateur record of 95-10 64 KOs Ioka turned pro in April 2009 at just 20 year’s old. His early bouts saw him claim a victory over former world title contender Takashi Kunishige and survive an early knockdown to outpoint Heri Amol. 18 months in and the buzz surrounding Ioka was growing and a 10th round stoppage over Masayoshi Segawa to claim the Japanese light flyweight strap in October 2010 only enhanced his reputation.
4 months later Ioka took part in his first world title fight as he went up against WBC strawweight champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai. The Thai was undefeated in 36 outings but was no match for Ioka who dropped him in round 2 and finished the job in round 5 to announce himself as a serious talent. The Osakan had made himself the quickest Japanese fighter to win a world title with the victory over Oleydong coming in just his 7th contest. A unanimous decision over Juan Hernandez followed in August before an opening round blow out of Yodgoen Tor Chalermchai on New Year’s Eve completed his 2011 campaign.
Next up was the first ever all Japanese unification clash against fellow 105 lb belt holder Akira Yaegashi in June 2012. Ioka jumped out to an early lead but was pegged back by the relentless Yaegashi and after 12 pulsating rounds we had a really close fight on our hands. Ioka claimed a narrow unanimous decision and had unified 2 belts in just his 10th fight. A move up in weight then followed as Ioka won a secondary belt at light flyweight on the last day of 2012 with a 6th round stoppage of Jose Alfredo Rodriguez.
Knockout wins over Kwanthai Sithmorseng and Wisamu Kokietgym along with a unanimous point’s victory over hard hitting Felix Alvarado completed Ioka’s 2013 schedule but a refusal to take on Roman Gonzalez who was the full champion at the weight left many feeling disappointed. Ioka then attempted to join the thriving flyweight division when he squared off against IBF titlist Amnat Ruenroeng in May 2014 however, he suffered his first defeat via split decision and although the man from Japan could have got the decision he never really got to grips with the tricky and awkward Thai.
Non-title victories over Pablo Carillo and Jean Piero Perez weren’t totally convincing and there were major question marks of Ioka’s ability to hang with the elite at 112 lb. A majority points win over regular flyweight belt holder Juan Carlos Reveco in April 2015 didn’t silence all the doubters and a rematch was ordered. Before the second encounter with Reveco which took place on New Year’s Eve Ioka squeezed in a straight forward defense against Roberto Domingo Sosa in September 2013 as he scored a wide unanimous decision. The rematch saw Ioka produce his best performance for some considerable time as he stopped the Argentinian in 11 rounds and it now looked as if he had fully grown into the flyweight division.
After an 11th round stoppage over the plucky Keyvin Lara in July 2016 a bout between Ioka and full champion Juan Francisco Estrada was ordered but the Mexican instead moved up 3 pounds north and yet another potential big fight had disappeared. Instead a mandatory defense against Stamp Kiatniwat was ordered and after flooring his man early on the Thai challenger was eventually stopped in the 7th round on the last day of 2016. A unanimous decision over Noknoi Sitthiprasert last April turned out to be the 28-year-old’s last contest and he finishes with a record of 22-1 13 KOs.
There’s no doubting Ioka’s status as a quality champion at strawweight with excellent wins over Oleydong, Hernandez and Yaegashi and the scrap with his fellow countrymen will always be a special part of Japanese boxing history. With the complete muddle created by the WBA with their super/regular/interim nonsense the legitimacy of Ioka’s titles at light flyweight and flyweight can be left to your own personal discretion but a sharp decline in quality of opposition when moving up in weight is undeniable with Reveco and Alvarado easily being the best victories above 105 pounds.
A clash with Roman Gonzalez is definitely the biggest miss and despite the best efforts of the Nicaraguan’s team at the Teiken Gym, you never got the sense that the Ioka Gym had the belief that their man could defeat Gonzalez. The failure of his team to secure big named opponents after 2012 could also have been a contributing factor that led Ioka to retirement with a lack of motivation a distinct possibility.
Ioka was a genuine draw especially at the EDION Arena in Osaka and pulled in sizable audiences on TV with numbers of over 6 million achieved more than once on free to air channel TBS. He was also a pioneer along with Takashi Uchiyama as both began the now annual trend of headlining major cards on New Year’s Eve. So all in all after a fine start to his career which hinted at something really special things tailed off somewhat and ended in disappointing circumstances and at just 28 a comeback is possible but seems unlikely given the personal issues that exist.
By Marcus Bellinger
If you’re like me then you probably ate like a king, drunk far too much alcohol and watched a copious amount of sport over the Christmas and New Year’s Eve period but now that’s long gone as we begin yet another year. I won’t patronise you with the “New year new me” bollocks that may have infested your various social media feeds or bore you with meaningless New Year’s resolutions that I don’t make anyway but here are a few things I would like to see occur in boxing in Asia and generally in 2018.
More high level all Japanese world title fights and at least 1 all Japanese unification.
Given their deep history in the sport it’s astonishing to think that the June 2012 clash between Kazuto Ioka and Akira Yaegashi was the first ever all Japanese unification bout to take place as the pair put their respective strawweight titles on the line. Unfortunately an injury to Kosei Tanaka put pay to a 108 lb unification with Ryoichi Taguchi which would have taken place on New Year’s Eve but there are still potential matchups to be made at 105, 108, 112 and possibly 122 lb that would provide a second unification between 2 pugilists from the land of the rising sun.
Naoya Inoue v Kohei Kono, Yukinori Oguni v Ryosuke Iwasa and Sho Kimura v Toshiyuki Igarashi are 3 of the most high profile all Japanese world title scraps seen in the last couple of years and hopefully we see many more of such fights in 2018 especially with very few barriers preventing them from happening given there is a far more flexible approach when it comes to promoters working together and the TV divides are few and far between. At super bantamweight alone there are numerous good quality fights that could be made involving the likes of Ryosuke Iwasa, Ryo Matsumoto, Tomoki Kameda, Shingo Wake, Yukinori Oguni and Yusaku Kuga.
A world class fighter to get in the ring with Naoya Inoue.
When Inoue blitzed Omar Narvaez in 2 rounds at the end of 2014 in one of the most scintillating performances of recent times, we were witnessing the birth of a new boxing superstar. Whilst hand injuries kept him out for a period and David Carmona and Kohei Kono were solid opponents, taking on the likes of Ricardo Rodriguez, Antonio Nieves and Yoan Boyeaux simply hasn’t advanced his career as it should have been.
With fellow belt holders and top contenders avoiding him like the plague Inoue and the Ohashi Gym have seemingly now ran out of patience and the 24-year-old now intends to make a run at bantamweight. A dustup with WBO 118 lb champion Zolani Tete certainly has got boxing fans talking and there seems to be a willingness to make it from all involved as both are craving a true challenge. If Tete should overcome mandatory challenge Omar Narvaez in February then there would be nothing from preventing this salivating clash from taking place with Japan being the likely destination given Inoue’s star power and Fuji TVs resources and even the South African’s promoter Frank Warren conceded this point on the Boxnation podcast.
More all Filipino bouts at all levels.
Again this may seem like a strange request but for some unexplainable reason putting 2 boxers together from the Philippines can often be a bit of a taboo subject and a complete no-no and the last world title tussle between 2 Filipinos came way back in 1925 which is a staggering statistic. The reason often given is that having more Filipino world champions is the priority but this short sighted approach needs to change to prevent the decline and stunted growth of boxing in the country.
Brian Viloria v Donnie Nietes, Mark Magsayo v Genesis Servania, Jerwin Ancajas v Jonas Sultan and Jhack Tepora v Jeo Santisima are just 4 all Pinoy contests I would love to see happen this year and there are many others I haven’t mentioned.
TV channels in the Philippines to start giving boxing the coverage it deserves.
Apart from ALA’s Pinoy Pride series on ABSCBN, boxing viewing was scarce and even Milan Melindo’s meetings with Akira Yaegashi and Ryoichi Taguchi were only shown on delay which in this day and age is utterly pointless. More channels investing in the sport would also be highly beneficial and it would allow promoters to properly develop the many talented fighters that are in the country and enable them to be seen and gain a far greater profile.
Thais to be referred by their fighting name and not their birth name.
Boxrec looked to have started this annoying trend with other outlets following and now researching Thai fighters is quite frankly a right pain in the arse. Boxers from Thailand fighting under a name of their Gym or sponsor is simply part of the culture and for identification purposes going with the first name E.G Srisaket, Knockout or Wanheng is preferable as there are a number of Kokietgyms, Freshmarts and Kratingdaenggyms for example. So please, no more Wisaksil Wangek, Thammanoon Niyomtrong or Chayaphon Moonsri references and let’s just leave things be and stop creating any unnecessary confusion.
Finally a few general wishes, can we outlaw the terms super welterweight and super lightweight? Can the WBA just have 1 champion in each division? And lastly can various commentary teams from around the world stop insulting their viewers by persisting with predetermined narratives and just call fights as they happen.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features