By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
A hectic weekend of fistic action turned out to be a fruitful one for Japan with a new world champion crowned, the consummation of a tasty looking all Japanese dustup and an anticipated super bantamweight clash that produced a world title contender.
We begin at the Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida as Masayuki Ito took on Christopher Diaz for the vacant WBO super featherweight strap. Ito had started slow in some of his recent fights but the visitor was out of the gate quickly, landing with solid body shots and right hands. Diaz was often standing in mid-range without letting his hands go and was a sitting duck for the right hand and it was this punch that dropped him in round 4 and a knockout win for Ito looked a strong possibility.
To his credit the Puerto Rican not only rallied in the 4th but arguably had his best round in the 5th. Ito controlled the majority of the rest of the contest, repeatedly tagging Diaz with right hands, causing his left eye to shut. Whilst the home man never stopped trying there was no doubting the result at the final bell and Ito deservedly got the unanimous decision.
The narrative throughout the ESPN+ broadcast that Diaz was the more seasoned fighter was baffling considering that Diaz had never gone passed 8 rounds and had never fought anyone of any real quality whilst Ito had had a number of 10 and 12 round bouts with solid domestic and regional foes. This seasoning which is pretty much the norm in Japanese boxing certainly prepares them properly for the step up to world level and although certainly not every boxer from the land of the rising sun is victorious, very rarely are they embarrassed or blown out in a few rounds.
As for where Ito goes next then unless Top Rank were suitably impressed enough to sign him the most logical move appears to be a spot on one of the high profile cards at home until a big often comes in from abroad. The division at the moment is pretty thin in terms of depth but things can change very quickly below lightweight.
As part of a world title doubleheader in China, Sho Kimura successfully defended his WBO flyweight crown against Froilan Saludar. The challenger actually began pretty well, countering effectively over the first 2 rounds leaving the champion slightly confused. Kimura’s pressure then began to tell and the Filipino struggled under the weight of the body shots and it was a blow to the mid-section which saw proceedings come to an end in round 6.
Kimura now takes on former 105 and 108 lb champion Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya on September 24 in a fascinating matchup of boxer puncher versus all out pressure fighter. The rise of Kimura has been a remarkable one, from 10/1 underdog against Zou Shiming to now a world champion who’s made 2 successful defenses and is now in a far better financial position.
Tanaka looked impressive on his flyweight debut against Ronnie Baldonado in March but having been dropped more than once during his career and having suffered fairly serious injuries against Palangpol CP Freshmart it will be intriguing to see how he copes with the brute strength of Kimura. Tanaka’s huge edge in speed should be telling early on but things could get very interesting in the second half of the bout as Kimura’s non-stop pressure and size could come into play.
The less said about the other world title fight on the show the better as Knockout CP Freshmart and Xiong Zhao Zhong served up a dire 12 round shit fest that wasn’t befitting of some of the truly great fights at strawweight over the last decade. Knockout came away with the unanimous decision but a listless display with stretches of laziness that have been evident in recent bouts didn’t enhance his reputation at all. There was talk of an offer being made to Tatsuya Fukuhara but it now seems that mandatory challenger Byron Rojas will be next. The likes of Fukuhara, Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi should be queuing up to take on the Thai who looks to be a champion ready to be taken.
Over at a jam packed Korakuen Hall Yusaku Kuga and Shingo Wake squared off for the Japanese super bantamweight title. The fight was built as a potential world title eliminator so there was a lot on the line for both men.
Wake proved to be too sharp and too skilful for Kuga who was dropped early on and never really got to grips with the sharpshooting southpaw. As the defending champion tried to turn the tide this only left more openings for Wake and eventually the towel came in during the 10th and final stanza. Kuga is definitely young enough to come again and as for Wake, he stated afterwards his desire for a world title tilt on New Year’s Eve.
With champions Ray Vargas and Daniel Roman having deals in the US these seem out of the question but if Ryosuke Iwasa comes through his mandatory defense against TJ Doheny in August then that maybe plausible. Also Isaac Dogboe who faces Hidenori Otake in August has shown a willingness to travel so maybe tempted by a trip to Japan.
As a huge advocate of more all Japanese bouts of significance at all levels it was great to see Kuga and Wake face each other as both could have gone in different directions and given the electric atmosphere that was created hopefully we see more of these type of clashes. At super bantamweight alone there’s the likes of Hinata Maruta of the Morioka Gym, Ryo Matsumoto from the Ohashi and Woz Boxing's Shohei Omori attempting to progress their careers. Speaking of Omori, the hard hitting southpaw returned with an excellent second round stoppage of Brian Lobetania which should give him a real confidence boost.
On the same card in Osaka, Masayoshi Nakatani made the 10th defense of his OPBF lightweight strap, eventually stopping Izuki Tomioka in 11 rounds and again a world title fight was mentioned but frankly seeing will be believing given how he has remained at regional level. Sho Ishida scored a 4th round knockout of Richard Claveras but in a crowded 115 lb weight class, opportunities at world level are few and far between. Finally Tatsuya Fukuhara won a 10 round decision over Naoya Haruguchi to keep himself in the minimumweight mix and is capable of giving anyone in the division a hard nights work.
(Image courtesy of Sumio Yamada)
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most interesting at the moment in terms of the fighters in it, though has sadly been lacking in good match ups. Hopefully that will change in the near future as some of the notable fighters, finally, face off against each other.
Here we have looked at some of the best in the division with short profiles on 9 of the best in Asia as well mentions of other top Asian's in the division and the other top names in the division world wide.
Other Asian fighters at Super Bantamweight worth making a note of are-
Yukinori Oguni (14-1-1, 4)-Oguni is a technically well schooled boxer-mover who is the current Japanese champion and a former OPBF title holder, who lost the belt by stoppage to Wake. Although talented he is a light puncher and will likely struggle to get beyond Japanese level again. Despite that he will be in interesting fights, especially at domestic Japanese level.
Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8, 7)-Another Japanese level fighter who is often in entertaining bouts is Ishimoto, who is best known for out pointing Wilfredo Vazauez Jr. Ishimoto has come up short in a couple of Japanese title fights but is expected to get a third shot shortly and it could well be his last. If he manages to claim a domestic title then that will be a perfect way to close out his career.
Yusaku Kuga (11-1-1, 7)-One beaten Japanese prospect Kuga is a talented and capable fighter who is expected to reach OPBF level in his career. Aged 24 he's not viewed as a sensational prospect but certainly as a man with real promise. Promoted by Watanabe his future is bright but it's hard to see his route to the top considering his domestic competition. Saying that however we do like a lot.
Hikaru Marugame (5-0, 3)-Marugame is another Japanese prospect and one who is tipped to go a long way. The 25 year old turned professional last year and has looked fantastic at times though has yet to have a serious test. That comes on October 19th when he takes on Jonathan Baat in a really testing 8 round bout at the Korakuen Hall. A win there would be a big statement for the youngster.
Kongthara KKP (7-0, 5)-We'll admit we don't know enough about Kongthara to really make a comment about how good he will be, but so far he has been really impressive and already holds wins over Shingo Kawamura and Nouldy Manakane. The talent he has shown has already impressed and he's already proved his stamina and ability over 12 rounds. One to keep an eye on.
As well as the Asian fighters there are also copious non-Asian fighters in the division worth noting.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (15-0, 10)-The best of the division, by some margin, is Cuban sensation Rigondeaux. Unfortunately Rigondeaux is a fighter who has proven to be hard to match, had to advertise and almost impossible to keep onside. Plenty of fans will accuse fighters of ducking him though comments from his own manager make it seem like he's actually as tricky outside of the ring as he is on the inside. An on song Rigondeaux is a pure boxer, but sadly his time may be running down.
Carl Frampton (21-0, 14)-Northern Irishman Frampton is regarded by many as the clear #2 in the division. He's a boxer-puncher with a lot of talent, a growing fan base and a combination of skills, speed and power. In a recent bout fans saw Frampton being dropped twice, in what was his US debut, those knockdowns saw some question his chin, and ability, but he did win the bout and has continued his unbeaten run. It's now thought that Frampton will be fighting Wake before the year is out in what really looks like one of the best bouts the division could give us.
Leo Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17)-Mexican warrior Santa Cruz once looked like one of the sports emerging stars. A 2-weight world champion with an exciting style he was supposed to be a throw to the Mexican fighters of old. Unfortunately a lot of the shine and good will he had built in his career has been damaged in the last couple of years as he's gone through a number of WBC defenses against weak opponents. Although he's tough and does throw a lot of punches the belief seems to be growing that he's a divisional cash cow but one with out the ability to face the other top fighters.
Scott Quigg (31-0-2, 23)-WBA “regular” champion Quigg was often seen as the weakest of the champions. In recent times however he has looked impressive and his recent blow out of Kiko Martinez was one of the most impressive wins of 2015. He's looking for a showdown with Frampton though it does seem unlikely that we'll see that one as mandatory obligations and promotional spats are standing in the way. Hopefully we'll see Quigg fight another top name in the near future, and Donaire is said to be the man his team are targeting in what would be an intriguing contest.
(Images courtesy of www.boxrec.com apart from the images of Kubo, courtesy of Shinsei Gym, and Kim, courtesy of the KBF)
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