By Marcus Bellinger
We’ve just about come to that time of year where it is time for reflection and to ponder the events of the last 12 months and to look forward to the possibilities of 2018. It is also about that time where various outlets select their awards for the year but being tighter than a camel’s arse in a sand storm I’m afraid that won’t be happening here but don’t let that put you off from continuing to read this piece as we delve in to the events across Asia both in the professional and amateur sides of the sport during 2017.
We begin in Japan and it was another solid year for boxing in the land of the rising sun who at time of writing have 9 world champions (not including regular or interim). More than anything 2017 was a real changing of the guard in Japanese boxing with the retirements of Katsunari Takayama, Takashi Uchiyama and Takashi Miura along with a number of other domestic and regional operators and losses for Akira Yaegashi and Shinsuke Yamanaka are an indication that both are at the tail end of their careers. This has of course made room for the new wave of fighters such as Naoya Inoue, Kosei Tanaka, Daigo Higa, Ken Shiro and Hiroto Kyoguchi to come through and take centre stage and Japanese boxing couldn’t be in better hands going forward.
One of the other big stories from Japan was of Kazuto Ioka who not only vacated his flyweight strap but also took a break from the ring due to internal family issues and it remains unclear whether he will return which would be a real shame as he has been one of Japan’s biggest stars over the last 5 years or so.
On the TV front Fuji and TBS emerged as the 2 real players especially with TV Tokyo seemingly no longer showcasing the sport and online service Boxingraise continued to provide a valuable platform for young fighters and domestic and regional bouts.
On the face of it a shock defeat for Manny Pacquiao at the hands of Jeff Horn which resulted in the loss of his WBO welterweight strap might suggest a disastrous year for boxing in the Philippines but actually the country enjoyed a pretty successful 12 months and at time of writing has 3 IBF world champions, some capable contenders and a cluster of supremely talented youngsters.
Donnie Nietes became a 3 weight world champion, claiming the vacant IBF flyweight crown with a hard-fought unanimous decision over Eaktawan BTU Ruaviking but unfortunately this was his only ring appearance of 2017 with a mandatory defense against Juan Carlos Reveco hopefully set to take place in the first quarter of 2018. IBF super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas scored 3 stoppage wins on the road in Macao, Australia and Northern Ireland and earned himself a contract with Top Rank which will hopefully give him the deserved exposure and notoriety his talent deserves. Milan Melindo pulled off a sensational victory over IBF 108 lb titlist Akira Yaegashi, gutted out a 12 round war versus Hekkie Budler and has the chance on New Year’s Eve to unify against Ryoichi Taguchi in Tokyo.
Jonas Sultan produced a career best display to defeat Johnriel Casimero, Genesis Servania proved his worth in a points loss to Oscar Valdez and Mark Magsayo and Aston Palicte are right in the mix for world title shots in 2018. Marlon Tapales lost his WBO bantamweight belt on the scales and hasn’t been seen since a repeat KO win over Shohei Omori in April. Jhack Tepora, Reymart Gaballo and Mark Anthony Barriga are just 3 of the promising Pinoys but will need the opportunities to flourish which are by no means guaranteed in a declining and floundering Filipino boxing scene, with lack of coverage and finances from TV massively stunting the growth of the sport amongst other issues.
2017 was a banner year for Srisaket Sor Rungvisai with the hard hitting southpaw scoring back to back victories over the outstanding Roman Gonzalez. After a close decision win in their first encounter the Thai left no doubt in the rematch, drilling Gonzalez in 4 rounds and putting the world on notice of his ability. Srisaket defends his WBC 115 lb belt against Juan Francisco Estrada in the US on 24 February and if he should come through that then there are numerous options available at super flyweight and bantamweight. Fellow Thai world champions Wanheng Menayothin and Knockout CP Freshmart ticked over without doing anything spectacular but both strawweights could face tougher challengers next year.
Rex Tso continued to carry the hopes and expectations of Hong Kong on his back and with Naoya Inoue expected to move up a crack at a vacant belt looks certain to come in 2018. Regardless of the result a first world title fight to be held in Hong Kong would be an event to savour and given his fighting style Tso will make it entertaining.
Chinese boxing took a hammer blow as Zou Shiming lost his WBO flyweight crown to Sho Kimura and the country is still in search of a bonified talent to open the flood gates. Light flyweight debutant Lu Bin showed real promise and it will be interesting to see how he progresses in his next few fights. Forma strawweight world champion Xion Zhao Zhong made a comeback of sorts, taking a decent win over then unbeaten Petchmanee Kokietgym and he’s set to get another world title crack in 2018 but at 35 the first ever world champion from China has a very limited time left to achieve anything more than he has already.
Amateur boxing was consumed by a tumultuous power struggle in 2017 which eventually saw AIBA President of 11 years Mr. Ching-Kuo Wu resign. Inside the ring Asia enjoyed a superb world championships, claiming 15 of the 40 available medals which made them the most successful continent. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan remain the top forces in Asia and both nations have some exceptional young boxers coming through the ranks.
The Astana Arlans clinched their third WSB title with a victory over the Cuba Domadores in a final which was closely contested and full of high class boxing and next seasons competition is set to feature a team from India for the first time. Speaking of India the country went from strength to strength in 2017, claiming a Bronze at the world championships and numerous medals at the Asian championships, Asian Youths and juniors and also the women’s Asian championships and Asian Youths.
Finally for those who love to stay ahead of the curve and are always on the lookout for the next potential superstar then I would suggest jotting down the name Hayato Tsutsumi. After capturing world youth gold at flyweight at the end of 2016, Tsutsumi added his second Asian youth crown in July this time at bantamweight. He then went on to compete and win in the Japanese Nationals in his first competition at the elite level. In the semi-final the 18-year-old defeated experienced international operator Ryomei Tanaka who is the elder brother of Kosei Tanaka and Tsutsumi could be one of the home stars of the Tokyo Olympics.
By Marcus Bellinger
Whilst boxing in the West pretty much comes to a halt in the next few days, Japan is slowly gearing up for its annual end of year bonanza.
A recent phenomenon, the end of year cards are now a regular feature of the boxing calendar with Kazuko Ioka and Takashi Uchiyama being the focal points of separate cards on New Year’s Eve since 2011 however, neither are in action this year with Uchiyama retiring and Ioka taking a hiatus from the ring due to lack of motivation and a disagreement with his father.
Whilst certainly not as stacked as previous years there is still plenty of notable names and solid fights to look forward to from the land of the rising sun before 2017 draws to a close.
The world title action commences on 30 December in Yokohama as Naoya Inoue and Ken Shiro defend their respective WBO super flyweight and WBC light flyweight straps. Both look to have relatively straight forward assignments with Inoue facing Yoan Boyeaux and Shiro taking on Gilberto Pedroza.
With the persistent and niggling hand injuries seemingly behind him, this will be Inoue’s 3rd fight of 2017 but KOs of Ricardo Rodriguez and Antonio Nieves haven’t taught us anything we already didn’t know about the outstanding 24-year-old and Boyeaux is unlikely to change that. Inoue had his first bout in the US in September against Nieves on the very successful Superfly card and could compete on the second edition in February but securing a quality opponent has become exceedingly difficult with fellow belt holder Kal Yafai turning down an offer and Jerwin Ancajas signing a deal with Top Rank. This has led to the distinct possibility of Inoue moving up to bantamweight in search of quality opposition. Boyeaux is well travelled but is taking a giant leap up in class and the Frenchman goes in a heavy underdog with Karim Guerfi and Anthony Settoul being the best names on his record along with a point’s loss to a fledgling Carl Frampton.
Having captured WBC Youth, Japanese and OPBF titles 2017 was the year where we found out whether Shiro could take the step up to world level and the 25-year-old proved his worth with 2 hard-fought victories over Ganigan Lopez and Pedro Guevara. A rematch with Lopez awaits in 2018 if he overcomes Pedroza. The Panamanian has been very active in 2017 fighting 5 times and won a split decision over forma world title challenger Saul Juarez but the 25-year-old was stopped by forma Ryoichi Taguchi victim Robert Barrera back in October 2014.
Also featuring is OPBF featherweight champion Satoshi Shimizu who squares off against Eduardo Mancito in his first defense. Mancito has gone the distance with Ray Vargas and Alberto Guevara but was stopped by Tomas Rojas and by the way Shimizu has ploughed through his 4 opponents so far it’s unlikely that the Filipino will be able to hang with him for the duration of the contest. Takuma Inoue goes up against veteran Kentaro Masuda in what should be a pretty entertainment scrap. Masuda has been in some terrific bouts on the domestic and regional scene including his up and down thriller against Mark John Yap in July which he lost but if the younger Inoue sibling has ambitions of winning world titles then he should prevail. Finally Koki Inoue takes on Dong Hee Kim who’s never been stopped and prospects Kazuki Nakajima and Katsuya Yasuda also see action on the bill.
We then get a fistic New Year’s Eve treat from the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo as a light flyweight unification between Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo headlines an excellent triple header. This is a genuine 50-50 fight and it’s difficult to pick a winner as both have flattened to deceive at times whilst looking fantastic on other occasions.
Taguchi looked really impressive in stopping mandatory challenger Robert Barrera in 9 rounds in July but Carlos Canizales gave him fits on the last day of 2016 and inconsistency has plague the 29-year-old throughout his world championship reign. Before the bout with Melindo was finalised only the second ever all Japanese unification with then WBO champion Kosei Tanaka was close before unfortunately Tanaka sustained facial injuries against Palangpol CP Freshmart then subsequently moved up in weight.
Melindo’s career was in real danger of going nowhere before he won a unanimous decision versus Fahlan Sakreerin Jr to capture the interim IBF 108 lb trinket and position himself for a crack at then full champion Akira Yaegashi. The Filipino produced a phenomenal performance to take out Yaegashi in a round in May and announce himself as a serious threat in the division. He then narrowly retained his title in an absorbing 12 round affair with Hekkie Budler in September and now stands on the cusp of being a unified champion if he can defeat Taguchi.
Also on the Tokyo card Show Kimura makes the first defense of his WBO flyweight belt against countrymen Toshiyuki Igarashi. Kimura was a complete unknown to most boxing fans before he ripped the title away from Zou Shiming via 11th round stoppage in July in one of the year’s biggest upsets and he’ll be aiming to continue that momentum and prove that the win over the man from China wasn’t a fluke. Igarashi won’t be on anyone’s list of must watch fighters and 4 of his last 8 contests have ended up being technical decisions. In the build-up he has been receiving advice from his wife who works in cosmetics and has been applying various creams and lotions to try and improve his fragile skin which has been prone to cuts. Igarashi briefly held the WBC flyweight crown before being dethroned by Akira Yaegashi in April 2013.
The final world title tussle sees Hiroto Kyoguchi tangle with mandatory challenger Carlos Buitrago for the IBF strawweight strap. Like many boxers from Japan in recent times Kyoguchi was fast tracked and won his world title defeating Jose Argumedo via unanimous decision in just his 8th pro outing. Kyoguchi possesses power and proved he could cope with a rough and rugged customer such as Argumedo but will need to show a bit more nous against the talented Nicaraguan.
Buitrago has excellent boxing skills but has failed to get over the line in his most notable bouts against Merlito Sabillo and his 2 encounters with Knockout CP Freshmart and over a year’s inactivity might not prove to be an advantage either. Finally Shingo Wake and Masataka Taniguchi have stay busy fights against Thai foes as both men look to try and set up more meaningful contests in 2018.
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