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.
It's been a while since Japanese boxing fans have had free to air action though over the next few weeks fans will get a number of free to air shows across 4 of the terrestrial channels with each showing at least 1 big name in action.
The first of the shows comes a week today as the unbeaten Shinsuke Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) defends his WBC Bantamweight title against unbeaten Argentinian Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15) on April 16th. This will be Yamanaka's 8th defense of the title and will see him attempting to continue his reign of terror in the packed Bantamweight division. For fans wanting to watch this one it will be on NTV at 19:56 Tokyo time with the broadcast set to finish at 20:54.
For those wanting to watch the undercard bouts for that card they are unfortunately not on a free to air channel.
Less than a week later we see action on TBS who will be televising two world title bouts. One of those will see IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (28-7-0-1, 11) defending his belt against Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (27-3-1, 15) whilst the the other bout will see the mega-popular Kazuto Ioka (16-1, 10) attempt to become a 3-weight world champion as he battles Juan Carlos Reveco (35-1, 19) in a bout for the WBA Flyweight title. The beginning of this broadcast is stated to begin just before 20:00 local time on April 22nd.
From what we understand Sho Ishida (18-0, 10) may have highlights shown if the two main bouts both end early.
To begin May the televised action continues to roll and Fuji TV will begin the month by televising a couple of interesting looking bouts. The first of those will be Takashi Miura's (28-2-2, 21) WBC Super Featherweight world title defense against former IBF Featherweight champion Bily Dib (39-3, 23) whilst the other will be a bout between Ryota Murata (6-0, 4) and Douglas Damiao Ataide (13-1-1, 6). This show will give Miura a chance to really establish himself with fans whilst also allowing Murata to face a world ranked foe in what should make for an enjoyable card.
The hope here is that if both bouts are over early then highlights may be shown from Akira Yaegashi's (20-5, 10) bout, which will see the exciting 32 year old fighting for the first time as a fully blown Super Flyweight.
The last of the free to air shows during the little burst of action comes on May 6th when TV Tokyo get in on the action and televise a couple of interesting bouts between Japanese champions and Thai challengers. The first of those bouts will see WBA Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi (24-2-1, 8) defending his title against Kwanthai Sithmorseng (49-3-1, 26) in what will be Taguchi's first defense of the title he won this past December. The other bout is a much more mouth watering contest between unbeaten WBA Super Featherweight “super” champion Takashi Uchiyama (22-0-1, 18) and Thai challenger Jomthong Chuwatana (9-0, 4). Uchiyama will be seeking the 10th defense of the title, as he slowly moves towards the Japanese record of 13 world title defenses, whilst Jomthong look to claim a world title in boxing to go along with his numerous titles from Muay Thai.
At the moment there hasn't been a time announce for either the Fuji TV or the TV Tokyo show however we suspect details will emerge closer to the date.
Of course whilst these channels are free to air in Japan that doesn't mean they will be the only ways to watch the bouts. For example we're aware that the Takayama Vs Fahlan bout will be aired in Thailand, on Mono 29, and the Ioka Vs Reveco bout will be televised in Argentina, on TYC Sports. At the moment however it does seem like some bouts are set to miss out on international coverage and that none of the bouts are set to be televised in the US or UK. Thankfully the free channels from Japan are available via certain methods on line.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kazutoioka.com)
With 2015 quickly approaching we've decided to do out look at the 15 prospects to watch in 2015. Here we bring you the first selection of those prospects, ranked from 10 to 6. Hopefully you'll put them on your radar for the test of the year.
For people who missed part 1 of this list, it can be found here.
10-Ye Joon Kim
South Korean boxing is certainly on a low point right now though it does have a very promising and exciting youngster making his name in the sport. That is Ye Joon Kim (10-1-2, 5) who appears to be the sole shining light in South Korean boxing. Kim combines charisma with arrogance, excitement with skill and, perhaps most tellingly, power with inexperience. There is a lot of improvements for the youngster to make however he has a lot of traits we like.
Aged 22 there is a lot of time for Kim to improve however we understand that there is a lot of pressure on the Seoul based fighter to pve himself and quickly, especially considering he is the shining light of Korean boxing. Thankfully he is as important as he is appealing and it's almost impossible not to enjoy watching this kid, despite some clear limitations.
Kim is the WBC Youth Super Bantamweight champion and although we don't think he will be ready for a world title bout by the end of 2015 we do suspect he will climb up through the WBC's world ranking, possibly moving into the top 10 by the end of the year. Prior to then however he will need a big win to boost him through the ranks and we think that'll come against a notable
Japanese based Filipino fighter Johnriel Maligro (12-0, 9) hasn't been getting a lot of attention but has been genuinely deserving of some after a brilliant 2014 that should have caught the attention of almost every boxing fan out there. Sadly for Maligro he is a 20 year old Super Featherweight competing in Japan where the division is red hot and he's been easy to ignore, despite wins over an 11-0 and a 10-0 opponent this last year.
Young, heavy handed, promising and slowly proving himself as a prospect to watch Maligro is certainly a talent to keep an eye on. His problems might be that his opposition, especially in Japan, will be tough however he's managed to beate tough foes so far and there is a chance he'll manage to continue that run of form a little bit longer as he begins to move beyond the Japanese domestic scene.
We're not expecting Maligro to fight for a major title this coming year but we're hoping to see him up against a world ranked foe at some point in 2015. He has the youth to take his time though something makes us think he'll continue on his fast track and be matched with solid foes from the start of the year to the end of it, hopefully he'll continue to win and moved towards a very successful 2016.
The unbeaten Shohei Omori (13-0, 8) has become a bit of a break out prospect this year in the eyes of many fans though the hardcore fans out there likely saw it coming and the southpaw hopeful hasn't been as a much a hidden secret as a gem in the making. Aged 21 he has already shown all the signs of a man reaching the top though was clear in 2012 when he won the Bantamweight Rookie of the year. In 2013 Omori added 3 stoppages with the most notable of those being his win over Christian Esquivel, which was a real coming of age performance.
Sharp punching, accurate, surprisingly heavy handed and very calm in the ring it seems like Omori has everything needed in terms of skills. Add those skills to his southpaw stance, his larger than average size and his ability to impress at either 118lbs or 122lbs and you have a really exciting young prospect ready to stamp his mark on the boxing scene in 2015, and lets not forget he is already world ranked.
Omori's future likely hands on what Woz Boxing can do for him. He'll know Woz aren't a big or powerful outfit but if they can link up with a Japanese power player then he could be in the title mix as soon as the year begins. There is no reason why Omori can't be in the mix for a title at either 118lbs or 122lbs and the chances he could over-come the Japanese champion in either division. As for the OPBF champions, they are out of his league, for now, though both titles are expected to be vacated early in the year. We don't see Omori fighting for a world title next year but a regional or national title has to be in his plans for 2015.
It seems that the promising Sho Ishida (17-0, 9) has been around for ages but the 23 year old is still several years from hitting his prime. Despite that he looked sensational last time out when he won the Japanese Super Flyweight title in what is his most notable win so far. Incidentally that win came 11 months after his previous best win, a stoppage against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym. With that same idea we suspect that next summer will be Ishida big step up and that he'll then begin to focus on the world scene.
Next time out, on December 31st, Ishida will be defending his Japanese title against Masato Morisaki, we'd not be shocked to see him defending that belt once more before stepping up a level, and we know former world title contender Teiru Kinoshita has said he would like to fight Ishida in 2015, that would be a perfect test for the Ioka gym prospect.
Ishida appears to have the tools to go to the top. He has the speed, the backing, the support and style to go a long way behind his razor like jab. He however needs some seasoning fights before he looks at a world title bout and whilst we suspect a bout with Kinoshita would help him develop that seasoning we think he'll still need another fight or two. As mentioned we think that a big step up will occur in summer and that could well be against a former champion. We'd be very shocked if 2015 did see Ishida fighting for a world title but we'd be even more shocked if he did end the year looking ready for a big break.
One choice that won't surprise many fans is that of Ryota Murata (5-0, 4), an Olympic champion who has been tipped for success since his debut in 2013. The powerful, good looking, charismatic and promising fighter was ear marked as one of the 2012 Olympians with the potential to become an almost immediate sensation in the professional ranks. He's not quite done that as of yet though within just 5 fights he already has a top 10 WBC ranking and a win over OPBF and Japanese champion Akio Shibata.
Murata did have a few questions asked of him last time out, as he struggled with stamina issues against Adrian Luna Flores, though we suspect those questions will help Murata focus on his weaknesses and that he will begin to work on his stamina ahead of a charge up the rankings in 2015 or 2016.
We know Murata will be going to the top in a different way to his compatriots. Unlike many he won't be focusing on winning Japanese or OPBF titles, instead he'll likely be basing his future in the US or fighting out of Macau. If that's the case he could get around the JBC's rules of needing to win a stepping stone title before fighting for a world title. If Murata does that then we suspect we'll see him in with world ranked foes in 2015 before a possible world title fight towards the end of the year, if the stars align. It may however be a case of waiting until 2016 for him to get an opportunity to fight for a world title.
(Image of Ryota Murata courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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