By Marcus Bellinger-
This past weekend was a busy one involving Asian fighters with world title fights of significance as well as domestic bouts in Japan.
The most notable action came on Sunday from Kokugikan, Tokyo as Teiken Promotions presented a solid triple header that was headlined by the rematch between Ryota Murata and Hassan N’Dam. Murata was on the wrong end of one of the most appalling decisions seen in recent times in their first encounter in May with 2 judges somehow giving it to the French based Cameroonian.
Murata immediately was on the front foot, applying pressure to N’Dam who was letting go with flurries. After the first couple of rounds Murata began to take over and N’Dam was burning up unnecessary energy. The constant body attack on N’Dam was paying dividends and Murata dished out an absolute hammering in rounds 5, 6 and 7 before N’Dam was wisely pulled out by his corner at the end of the 7th.
For Murata this will put to bed the wrong that took place in May and he can move on to big things in 2018 and with Teiken and Top Rank behind him the sky is the limit. The 31-year-old is a mega star in Japan with many of the main sports pages featuring the fight as their lead story. The bout drew a whopping average audience of around 13.7 million which to put it in prospective are the best numbers for boxing on Fuji TV since 2000. The plan is for Murata to defend his belt in Japan next spring before a possible fight in the US next summer.
On the same card Daigo Higa made the first defense of his WBC flyweight crown against Frenchman Thomas Masson. Given the chasm between European and world level in the lower weights this was expected to be routine for Higa and that’s exactly what it was with the hard hitting champion prevailing via 7th round stoppage. Masson proved to be pretty durable but was unable to keep Higa at bay and after taking a knee was stopped soon afterwards due to an eye injury.
In the post-fight interview Higa called out fellow 112 lb titlist Kazuto Ioka for a unification on New Year’s Eve and the Osakan seems the only man with the traits to compete with the 22-year-old however, with recent rumours of Ioka retiring due to a dispute with his father this looks holy unrealistic. A homecoming defense in Okinawa is the aim for January or February 2018 with no opponent confirmed although Muhammad Waseem and Andrew Selby have been linked to Higa in recent times.
The third title clash saw Ken Shiro defend his WBC light flyweight strap against Pedro Guevara. Shiro was facing his second Mexican opponent on the trot after narrowly defeating Ganigan Lopez in May for the belt. After being behind Shiro rallied to claim a majority decision and the 25-year-old has proved his mettle in 2017 having come through 2 hard-fought contests. Unfortunately the Guevara fight wasn’t shown on Fuji TV and hopefully Shiro receives some live broadcast time in 2018 and a rematch with Ganigan Lopez is next up for the BMB Gym fighter.
Approximately 12 hours earlier bantamweights Ryan Burnett and Zhanat Zhakiyanov squared off in the first ever unification clash to be staged in Ireland. The first half of this contest was honestly quite a difficult watch with a whole lot of holding clinching and grappling resulting in a very messy contest. Zhakiyanov never stopped coming forward and putting on the pressure but as the Kazak slowed down Burnett’s extra class showed down the stretch. The Belfast man was a worthy winner but the scorecards of 119-109 and 118-110 were far too wide and yet another further demonstration of how hard it has become for a visiting boxer to win a point's verdict in the UK.
Burnett showed a real versatility and adaptability in being able to beat Zhakiyanov at his own game and this will stand him in good stead for the future. The 118 lb division was thrown in to chaos when Luis Nery failed a drugs test soon after his KO win over the long reigning Shinsuke Yamanaka in August and a decision is still to be made by the WBC. Incidentally Nery takes on Arthur Villanueva in a non-title affair in Tiajuana on 4 November. The other legitimate belt holder is South Africa’s Zolani Tete but whether the egos of promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn can be put aside to make the bout between Tete and Burnett will have to be seen to be believed.
A few hours earlier at the Korakuen Hall the vacant Japanese lightweight title was contested between Shuichiro Yoshino and Spicy Matsushita. Yoshino was expected to overcome his veteran opponent and he duly did, scoring a 7th round knockout and claiming his first title in the process. Yoshino moved to 6-0 4 KOs and whilst it’s very premature to be talking about world title fights for the 26-year-old it will be interesting to see how he progresses with his first defense scheduled for February 2018. There were a number of Japanese title eliminators on the undercard including at flyweight where Katsunori Nagamine faced Akinori Hoshino. Despite a 7th round loss at the hands of Ken Shiro Nagamine has been in some thrillers in recent times and has become a bit of a favourite of mine. Unfortunately the bout with Hoshino never got going and at the end of 8 rounds it was a split draw with cards of 78-75 Nagamine, 77-75 Hoshino and a level 76-76. Nagamine progressed under the dominant point rule and will meet the winner of the November clash between Masayuki Kuroda and Mako Matsuyama sometime next year in what should be a far more exciting dustup.
Finally on the previous day still at the Korakuen Hall there was a Japan versus China show with Rikki Naito versus Baishanbo Nasiyiwula topping the bill. In what was a highly competitive bout Naito won a very close decision with scores of 77-75 76-75 and 75-79 and a rematch would be welcomed. This seems like a good initiative and could help the Chinese boxing scene which is still desperately searching for a genuine talent to take the sport forward.
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