Fighters rarely provide thriller after thriller after thriller. Where they do they tend to lose, due to accumulation of damage from wars adding up. Thankfully though we have had fighters who seemed to realise that boxing was part of the entertainment game and realised they needed to do more than just win. They needed to put on a show. They needed to excite fans. They needed to capture the imagination of those watching. In recent years there has been one particular fighter from Hong Kong who did just that. In fact that he put Hong Kong boxing on the map, before deciding to chase an Olympic dream, fighting for his country, rather than fighting for a professional world title and personal glory.
Of course that fighter was Rex Tso, and in we're being honest we could, and we will, go through a number of his great fights during this "Closet Classic" series, though today we start with one where he took on an unbeaten man, who attempted to win and put his name on the proverbial boxing map, giving us something amazing and giving his everything.
Rex Tso (19-0, 12) vs Ryuto Maekawa (11-0-1, 7)
By late 2016 Rex Tso had become the face of the Hong Kong boxing movement, he was a local star with the appeal, style and look to become much, much bigger than just the figure for Hong Kong. His all action fighting style meant he was potentially a figure head for Asian boxing in the coming years. He had marched up the world rankings on the back of 19 straight wins, picking up regional titles along the way and was looking like a world title fight was just around the corner. Like him or loathe him he was must watch TV, and DEF Promotions knew they had someone with star potential on their hands. The Wonder Kid was a made for TV fighter, and was a fighter who was attracting buzz from outside of just the boxing world.
Even prior to this fight Tso had been in amazing battles with Mako Matsuyama, Ratchasak KKP, Michael Enriquez, and would later go on to have sensational bouts with Hirofumi Mukai and Kohei Kono.
Whilst Rex Tso was already a star Ryuto Maekawa really wasn't. He was a relative unknown outside of the true hardcore fans of the Japanese scene, and even then he was hardly known by local fans. He had been on a few televised cards, though his most notable results were hardly footnotes on those cards, such as a draw with Cris Alfante and a blow out over Bimbo Nacionales. Despite being relatively unknown Maekawa was regarded as a hard hitting 20 year old prospect, who knew a win here of Tso would see his stock fly through the roof and leave him on the verge of a potential world title eliminator. All he had to do was get past Tso on October 8th 2016.
The fight started with a bit of a feeling out round, albeit a busier and more active one than your typical opening round, it was as if they started in second gear, rather than the typical slow paced start we see with fighters easing themselves into the fight. From then on things got better and better, with the fighters upping their output round by round.
By the time we got into round 6 and 7 the bout was becoming a fight, with Tso pressing and Maekawa responding with shots of his own between Tso's combinations. Both fighters were taking clean shots, both were letting punches go and both were willing to stand and trade at mid and close range. Amazingly things never really slowed down from there with both continuing to fire off combinations. Although one man was getting the better of it, round after round, the will of both was incredible and the action was fantastic. Even with swelling on his face and whilst in a huge hole Maekawa refused to just lose and gave all he had, right through to the final bell.
This was great, and even though Maekawa had to spend time in hospital after the bout, the fight is something every fight fan should give a watch to, and don't worry we will have more Rex Tso fights featred in our Close Classic in the future,
Whilst mainland China still yearns for a fighter to generate real excitement and show the necessary ingredients to carry the sport on their back Hong Kong has no such issues as the momentum around Rex Tso continues to gather pace both in and out the ring. The super flyweight known as “The Wonder Kid” took a hard-fought 7th round technical decision this past Saturday over forma world champion Kohei Kono to move his record to 22-0 13 KOs. As expected the pair delivered a war of attrition but unfortunately a grotesque swelling and a shut left eye suffered by Tso brought a halt to proceedings at the start of the 7th with Tso in front on all 3 cards by scores of 68-66.
Tso came from a boxing family with his dad and 3 brothers all competing as amateurs but the 30-year-old showed no appetite for the sport. Despite possessing plenty of talent a poor work ethic and general laziness suggested that his career would come to nothing however, linking up with Jay Lau seem to be a turning point. Lau, who was intent on building professional boxing in Hong Kong asked Tso to be his linchpin in the area and in conjunction with Top Rank Lau’s DEF Promotions still promotes Tso to this day.
Tso turned pro in September 2011 and his first few bouts were spread across Asia including Singapore, the Philippines and mainland China as well as at home. He was then able to take full advantage of Top Ranks foray in to Asia and ended up appearing on 8 of the cards that were staged in Macao. In this period he took on the likes of Rusalee Samor, Mako Matsuyama, Espinos Sabu, John Bajawa and Michael Enriquez. By now Tso had proved himself to be an exciting fan friendly fighter with a big heart but how far he could go was debatable.
With a government clampdown and a downturn in the Macao economy which resulted in Top Rank ceasing their operations in the area it was time to turn the attention back home for Tso and his handlers.
A 7th round knockout of Brad Hore then followed in August 2015 before he faced forma world title challenger Young Gil Bae in May 2016. The Korean proved to be no match for Tso who stopped him in 4 rounds. 5 months later he faced the undefeated Ryuto Maekawa who is a stablemate of the formidable WBC flyweight champion Daigo Higa. The 2 engaged in a bruising encounter with Tso prevailing after 10 rounds via unanimous decision. By now he was generating a real buzz in Hong Kong and pulling in a sizable crowd at the Convention and Exhibition Center. Canny operator Hirofumi Mukai was up next 5 months later and although the experienced Japanese fighter brought plenty of tricks to the table he was overwhelmed and stopped in 8 rounds.
Tso will never be a defensive wizard but sparring with the likes of Rey Megrino, Marlon Tapales, Takuya Watanabe and Randy Petalcorin has certainly sharpened his skills and elevated him on to another level. His ability to sell out the Convention and Exhibition Center and pull in a huge online audience make him a genuine attraction which of course gives his team more cards to play with when trying to entice quality opposition to Hong Kong.
Going forward a rematch with Kono would seem the most logical move given the early ending and the fabulous entertainment that the contest provided. With the depth and quality at 115 lb there is absolutely no guarantee of Tso claiming a world title but the Hong Kong superstar is a wonderful example of boxing’s continuing globalisation and however his career progresses it’s sure to be a memorable one with plenty of thrills and spills.
(Image courtesy of DEF HK Promotions)
Over the past week or so the Super Flyweight division has come to the attention of fans world wide. In the UK fans saw a much touted and previously unbeaten fighter come up short against a world class but unheralded African world champion whilst fans watching a stream from Macau got the chance to see an all-action war courtesy of TopRankTV. Despite these two memorable event over this past weekend many still suggest the division is a weak one. The reality however, is that the division is one of the toughest and most packed out there.
The Japanese Renegade-
Koki Kameda (33-1, 18) The oldest of the Kameda brothers is the current #2 WBA ranked fighter in the division and is the mandatory challenger to Kohei Kono with the WBA demanding the two men negotiate or face purse bids in a few weeks time. Kameda's resume is highly impressive with title reigns at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and Bantamweight though he wants a Super Flyweight title to become Japan's first ever 4 weight world champion. Sadly he is a divisive figure, similar to Adrien Broner, with many in Japan turning on him. Among those who have gotten sick of him and his brothers are the JBC who have banned him from fighting in Japan, though he has since made a very powerful ally in the form of Al Haymon who is likely to help make Kameda a big name in the US.
The tricky African champion-
Zolani Tete (20-3, 17) The first of two non-Asian that we're going to mention here is IBF champion Tete who impressed last week when he derailed the hopes of the previously unbeaten Paul Butler in the UK. Tete won the title last year, when he out pointed Teiru Kinoshita, and his fight with Butler was his first defence. Tall, rangy and with an educated southpaw jab Tete is a nightmare to fight and made both Butler and Kinoshita look clueless in their bouts with him. His biggest worry as a Super Flyweight will be out growing the division, a possibility given his frame, but for as long as he can made 115lbs he's going to be an avoided opponent. Most worryingly for his future opponents, he seems happier fighting on the road than he does at home.
The Mexican champion-
Carlos Cuadras (31-0-1, 25) The remaining champion in the division is WBC champion Teiken managed Mexican boxer-puncher Cuadras who won his title last year when he over-came Srisaket Sor Rungvisai via a technical decision. The talented Cuadras is a fighter who can box or brawl, electing to do what suits him best for each fight. Unfortunately for Cuadras recent bouts have been marred with headclashes though it's hard not to be excited when we see Cuadras in the ring. Thankfully we won't need to wait long to see him back in the ring with Cuadras set to fight Luis Concepcion on April 4th in what looks likely to be an absolutely enthralling contest.
Images courtesy of:
Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi's facebook
Following a somewhat quiet but interesting January we moved on to a more action pack February which featured several notable upsets, the return to the ring of one of the sports most popular fighters and some massive knockouts. For those who haven't forgotten what happened here is our review of the month.
The action kicked off on February 1st in what was a genuinely major day of action with notable shows in both Japan and Monaco, yes Monaco.
In Japan fans saw Yu Kimura become the new Japanese Light Flyweight as he narrowly defeated Kenichi Horikawa with a split decision. The title, which had been vacant, was the second Japanese national to find a new owner in 2014, following Go Odaira's victory in a Minimumweight title fight in January. Since this bout Horikawa has scored back-to-back wins, though both were majority decisions, Kimura has also managed 2 wins as he's defended the belt twice and is now expected to turn his attention to a world title.
In Monaco we saw the first bout of the year involving the always fun to watch Gennady Golovkin who beat up and eventually stopped Osumanu Adama to retain his WBA Middleweight title. Golovkin was fighting in Monaco for the second time and although he wasn't mega impressive the bout did two things. It allowed the Kazakh to remain active and it also showed that the US fans were wanting to see him with a near riot on twitter after this bout wasn't shown State side. On the same show fans also saw unheralded Filipino Rey Loreto iced South African Nkosinathi Joyi in a major upset. The win put Loreto on the boxing map for many though was really a continuation of his win in late 2013 against Pornsawan Porpramook. Loreto will rematch Joyi later this month, in South Africa, and if he can repeat the feat we suspect he'll find himself in a world title fight next year.
On February 2nd we saw Filipino prospect Johnreil Maligro score his first win of the year as he stopped Dondon Lapuz inside a round, since this win Maligro has gone on to score 2 big wins in Japan and the rise of the 20 year old hopeful really has been an astonishing one, even if he is still under-the-radar.
The busy start to February continued on February 5th as we saw a second major shock. This time it was in China where Xiong Zhao Zhong was shocked by the unheralded Oswaldo Novoa. Zhong, who could be backed a grossly mis-priced 1/100, was the WBC Minimumweight champion going into the bout but was battered, bullied and beaten up by Novoa. Despite the loss Zhong got back into action relatively quickly and has gone 2-1 in subsequent bouts, including a very competitive loss to WBA champion Hekkie Budler. As for Novoa he couldn't repeat his success on the road and was recently stopped in Thailand by Wanheng Menayothin.
We got another upset on February 9th when Japanese teenager Mako Yamada traveled to South Korea and dominated the then unbeaten Su Yun Hong to claim the WBO female Minimumweight title. Sadly however Yamada would retire without defending the belt to concentrate on other things in life. As for Hong she has since gone 1-0-1.
The same card in Korea also saw Ye-Joon Kim record an 8th round victory over Jong-Min Jung whilst Ja-Ik Goo defeated Taek-Min Kim. At the time Goo looked like the best prospect in Korean boxing though has vanished from the Korean boxing scene since this win whilst Kim has become the new face of Korean boxing and appears to be the one shining light in Korean boxing.
On February 10th we saw the months sole OPBF title fight as Shingo Wake defended the OPBF Super Bantamweight title against the thoroughly out classed and out sized Jovylito Aligarbes in what amounted to little more than a stay busy defence for the talented Wake. The more notable bout on this card was actually a Japanese title fight as the talented Rikki Naito claimed the Japanese Super Featherweight title with a sensational win over Hiroyasu Matsuzaki. Since these bouts Wake has recorded one further defenses whilst Naito has defended his belt twice.
Although the month started amazingly it did slow down and it wasn't until February 22nd that we had something else to really get excited about as Top Rank returned to Macau for the first show in the country for the year. The card featured 3 Olympic champions in the form of Ryota Murata, Egor Mekhontsev and Zou Shiming, who scored his first career stoppage. Although the show was sold on the 3 Olympians they didn't actually feature in any of the highlights that came on the show.
The big highlight was an 8 round war between Rex Tso and Mako Matsuyama in what was a much tougher fight for Rex than it should have been. The bout, from the opening round to the 8th, was a real war which you couldn't take your eyes off despite it being relatively one sided with Tso battering the gutsy and brave Matsuyama who showed incredible heart until eventually running out of steam and being stopped.
Although the bout between Tso and Matsuyama was brilliant it was over-shadowed in some ways by a KO of the Year contender as Filipino puncher Marvin Sonsona almost beheaded former world champion Akifumi Shimoda. Sonsona had made a very slow start to the bout but showed off his speed, skill and power as he landed a gorgeous short left uppercut that dropped Shimoda hard. The Japanese fighter was out cold when he got caught and stayed down whilst Sonsona celebrated one of the most outstanding KO's of the year.
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