On January 3rd, just days into the year we saw the first upset of the year as unheralded Filipino Alie Laurel went to Thailand and stopped the previously unbeaten, and world ranked, Tiger Tor Buamas in 5 rounds. The bout was for the WBO Oriental Bantamweight title that Tiger had won just a few months earlier when he stopped Alvian Bias, incidentally that was also in the 5th round, and it was expected that Tiger would secure another relatively straight forward win to defend the belt. Instead Laurel proved he wasn't just the typical Filipino who travels to Thailand to lose and instead he battered Tiger until the referee was forced to save the home fighter.
Interestingly the Filipino turned turned 22 the following day and would certainly have had a memorable birthday with his newly won title.
We had the first OPBF title bout of the year on January 11th and saw a new champion crowned as Lightweight prospect Masayoshi Nakatani came of age in a big way and out pointed Yoshitaka Kato. The bout was a huge step up in class for the Ioka gym prospect, who at time was fighting for just the 7th time as a professional, though it was a step he managed, despite a wobble or two. Since the win Nakatani has managed to defend the belt twice and has looked better with each defense. As for Kato he has since defended the Japanese title twice and will be looking to score his third win of the year this coming weekend when he fights against nemesis Nihito Arakawa in what will be a 3rd meeting between the two tough Lightweights.
Less than a week after Nakatani had won the first OPBF title fight of the year we saw the first Japanese title fight of the year. This came on January 17th and saw Go Odaira claim the Japanese Minimumweight title with an excellent decision win over Masashi Tada for the previously vacant belt. Since the winning the belt Odaira has defended it twice and will next been seen out on December 31st battling against Katsunari Takayama for the IBF Minimumweight title. If Odaira wins that he deserves to be given a lot of credit for a career defining year. Sadly we've not seen Tada return to the ring following this loss.
Whilst a Filipino had beaten a Thai in the first upset of the year we actually saw Thailand getting the last laugh of the month with Amnat Ruenroeng defeating Rocky Fuentes on January 22nd for the IBF Flyweight title. It was the first time either man had been in a world title bout and unfortunately for Fuentes he came up short in what was his 44th professional bout whilst Ruenroeng, fighting for the 12th time, became a world champion within 2 years of his debut. Since the bout the two men have certainly gone in different directions with Fuentes recently being stopped by Roman Gonzalez whilst Ruenroeng has defended his title twice defeating Kazuto Ioka in Japan and McWilliams Arroyo in Thailand in a mandatory defense.
Amnat's year has been so good that he is now being mentioned in the 2014 Fighter of the Year mix, a great achievement for someone unknown by most at the start of the year.
(Image, of Amnat landing a right hand on Fuentes, courtesy of Johnny Chaichotchuang)