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.
Earlier this year we did a number of “Divisional Overview” pieces before taking a hiatus with the Bantamweight division due to the fact there was a number of big bouts lined up one after the other the space of a few weeks. Now we've had those bouts and we can finally let loose with out “Divisional Overview-The Brilliant Bantamweights”.
To begin we look at 9 of the best from Asia, then we take a look at some lesser figures from the Asian boxing scene and then some international fighters. Hopefully we'll help to show just how interesting the division is right now.
Other notable Asians-
Malcolm Tunacao (35-5-5, 20)-Former Flyweight champion Tunacao is 37 and father time will certainly end his career shortly but he's still a real threat in the division and the 2-time OPBF champion still can't be forgotten about given his ability and experience. In fact he gave Yamanaka one of his toughest fights so far back in 2013.
Hideo Sakamoto (16-1-2, 5)-Japanese 29 year old Sakamoto isn't a world beater by any means but he is one of the divisions most over-looked fighters and he is currently on a 6 fight winning streak, dating back 4 years, since losing a close one to Eita Kikuchi. Among those wins are stoppages against Hiroki Shiino and Kazuyoshi Niki.
Yu Kawaguchi (23-6, 10)-Current OPBF champion Kawaguchi isn't the best fighter in Asia but he's a feel good story and his recent win over Takahiro Yamamoto was certainly career defining. We suspect he may be a target for fighters like Omori or Matsumoto if they can't secure bigger fights next time out.
Kazuki Tanaka (2-0, 2)-Japanese prospect Tanaka is viewed as one of the most exciting young fighters in Japan and his team are suggesting he could go all the way. Whilst it's hard to say for now we don't expect to need to wait too long with the view being that he will fight a JBC ranked opponent next time out.
Petch Sor Chitpattana (30-0, 19)-Unbeaten Thai youngster Petch is only 21 but has been racking up wins at an alarming pace since his 2011 debut. His competition so far has been poor to say the least but he already has a WBC world ranking.
Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym (47-2, 27)-Thai veteran Panomroonglek is best known for losing to Koki Kameda though it seems he now has every intention of making a move towards a WBA title fight.
Jamie McDonnell (26-2-1, 12)-Englishman McDonnell recently defeated Tomoki Kameda to retain his WBA "regular" title and it now seems like we could describe him as the #2 in the division. His title might only be a "secondary" title but the win over Kameda was a big one.
Juan Carlos Payano (16-0, 8)-Dominican fighter Payano is the current WBA "super" champion and is the man who eventually defeated Anselmo Moreno, albeit it in controversial circumstances. Payano is "the man" in terms of the WBA but he's yet to defend his title and has done nothing to inspire us into believing he'll be a long term title holder.
Randy Caballero (22-0, 13)-IBF champion Caballero made a splash in Japan last year when he stopped Kohei Oba in an IBF eliminator. A fight later Caballero claimed the IBF title though unfortunately suffered a serious injury before his first defense. On his return he's expected to face Ryusoke Iwasa or...
...Lee Haksins (31-3, 13)-Haskins is another Englishman and will be fighting Iwasa on June 13th. He's a tricky southpaw who holds notable wins over McDonnell and Stuart Hall and has done everything but fight for a world title.
Julio Ceja (29-1, 26)-Big punching Mexican is a serious threat and has spoken of fighting Shinsuke Yamanaka in the past. On paper he's a major threat and a really good boxer-puncher, though he has been beaten by McDonnell and was surprisingly taken the distance by Oscar Blanquet last time out.
Over the last few weeks we've been doing divisional overviews as part of our features. Last week we made an exception to do a feature on Japanese boxing's fast risers. This week we're making another exception as the division we got up to in our over-view is the Bantamweight division. Rather than rush out a Bantamweight over-view we've decided to put that off for a few weeks due to the potential changes the division will see in the month or so. Instead of a divisional over-view we've decided to take a look at some of the divisions up coming bouts and what they may mean for future of the Bantamweight division.
This first major bout is this coming Saturday, March 28th, when Japan's Ryo Akaho (25-1-2, 17) steps foot in the ring against Prosper Ankrah (24-4, 15) in a bout for the WBO International title. Akaho is ranked in the top 15 by all 4 world title bodies, including a #1 ranking with the WBO, and seems to be on the verge of a world title fight. He'll need to over-come Ankrah to get that opportunity but it shouldn't be that difficult for the heavy handed Japanese fighter who has won his last 6 bouts since moving up from Super Flyweight in 2013. This will be Akaho's first bout since signing a 1-year promotional deal with ALA in the Philippines and is expected to be an impressive showing from the confident Japanese fighter.
Just 8 days later, April 5th, we see an OPBF title fight which will see the heavy handed Takahiro Yamamoto (15-3, 12) battle against Yu Kawaguchi (22-6, 10). Yamamoto is from the Ioka stable, which features world class talents like Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki and Sho Ishida, and he'll be hoping to follow in their footsteps. Kawaguchi on this other hand comes from a less known stable though is the more experienced man and has previously fought in a Japanese title fight, coming up slightly short there. The match up isn't hugely attractive but it is significant and the winner will be involved in at least one more significant match up later in the year. The two should make for a very competitive match up and the winner will deserve another big bout in the near future, unfortunately however neither is the best Japan, never mind the best in Asia.
On the same show we will get the chance to see the very highly touted Kazuki Tanaka (1-0, 1) in action. Tanaka is regarded as one to watch and those in the know suggest he could be fast tracked at an electric pace. Tanaka should be able to claim a notable and impressive victory here as he takes on Kaname Tabei (10-8-2, 7), though this is a step up from his debut. If Tanaka looks as impressive as our sources say, he should then we suspect he will be moved into 8 rounders in his next bout.
On April 13th we see a brilliant Japanese title fight as the world ranked Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) attempts to defend the title against the unbeaten and fast rising Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). Masuda has been in sensational form in recent years winning the title, with a victory Kawaguchi, and defending it impressive fashion against Konosuke Tomiyama and Tatsuya Takahashi. On the other hand Omori is just breaking through though looks to be a very special fighter who understands everything involved in being a top level boxer. The unbeaten youngster will be getting a gut check here but a win will see him moved onwards and upwards fast over the next 12 months.
April 16th sees another title bout as unbeaten WBC champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) defends his title against unbeaten Argentinian challenger Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15). For us, and many others, Yamanaka is the division's clear #1 fighter and although he didn't look sensational last time out, against Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, his record speaks for it's self. Blessed with a missile of a left hand Yamanka has skills and power and will be expected to see off Santillan without too many problems in this one. Santillan does seem to be confident and a upset win would really shake up the division though a win for Yamanaka is widely expected.
April 22nd will see another unbeaten Japanese fighter, Naoto Uebayashi (7-0-1, 4) put his unbeaten record on the line as he takes on Filipino fighter Giovanni Escaner (12-3, 8) in a really fantastic match up that will give the winner a massive boost towards an OPBF title fight. Uebayashi was a very touted fighter when he turned professional though has failed to really shine in the professional ranks, having been down twice already. Escaner is on the verge of an OPBF title fight and will be hoping to score a career boosting win on foreign soil. Although this bout will go under the radar it is incredibly significant on the Asian scene.
Possibly the best match up comes on May 9th when Tomoki Kameda (31-0, 19) takes on Jamie McDonnell (25-2-1, 12) in a really intriguing contest between two top 15 fighters. Originally it was hoped that this would be a unification of the WBO and WBA “regular” title but the WBO have made the decision not to allow their title to be on the line, and have actually threatened to strip Tomoki. As controversial as the WBO's move is we have to agree with them in principle that the WBA have created too many paper titles. In regards to the fighters Tomoki is a beautiful to watch boxer who throws eye catching combinations, can switch between head and body and can hit a lot harder than his record suggests. McDonnell is a solid all round fighter with great volume punching, though of the two he's the one with more to prove despite being a “2-time world champion”. The winner here will probably be seen as the "#2 champion" behind Yamanaka though will remain a clear second.
Another bout in the pipeline, though one with out a date at the moment, will see Ryosuke Iwasa (19-1, 12) battle against Lee Haskins (31-3, 13) in a contest for the IBF interim title. This is another match up that will pit a pair of top fighters each other and could against set the tone for the division over the remainder of the year. Iwasa is a talented boxer-puncher though is relatively unknown outside of Japan despite being in a nail biting clash with Yamanaka and being a very solid amateur on the Japanese domestic scene. Haskins is a talented but frustrating fighter who has perfected a style that gets him wins but has turned fans away from him. The winner here will be expected to fight Randy Caballero later in the year to unify the IBF and IBF interim titles and then a possible high profile bout may be scheduled for the winter.
With all these bouts either signed and sealed, or in the pipeline, it's clear that the division is going to under-go a lot of changes in the next few weeks. It's also worth noting that later in the year we're expecting to see the debut of Hinata Maruta, who is likely to make a name for himself at Bantamweight.
Also we're expecting big things from the Thai trio of Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (40-6-1, 18), Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym (44-2, 26) and Petch Sor Chitpattana (29-0, 19) who have all been linked to world title fights later in the year just like Kazakh puncher Zhanat Zhakiyanov (24-1, 17). Though these title bouts aren't expected until much later in 2015.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp and WBO Boxing)
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