At the start of the year we got really excited about the news that Kuntae Lee (1-0, 1) [李健太] would be turning professional, kicking off his career after a genuinely excellent amateur career that saw him going 102-10, including a 62 fight winning run.
Whilst fighters with amateur careers are usually best known for what they did in the Olympics and the World Amateur championships Lee is actually better known for who he competed for. The third generation Korean, living in Japan, would make his name on the international stage by competing for North Korea. He did that at a number of events, including the 2014 Youth World Championships, losing to Liu Xiaoshuai, the 2016 Asian/Oceanic Olympic qualifiers, losing to Battarsukh Chinzorig and the 2018 Asian games, again losing to Battarsukh Chinzorig.
Despite twice losing to Battarsukh Chinzorig in high profile bouts, the Mongolian did hold Lee in high regard, speaking positively about Lee's speed in particular.
On the domestic scene he was a multi-time championship winner, beating the likes of Masahiro Suzuki, Shu Utsuki and Go Hosaka, all highly regarded prospects themselves, and Nobuhiro Hiranaka, the son of Akinobu Hiranaka and a man tipped to go to the 2020 Olympics.
His amateur form really got hardcore fans excited, they knew he was going to be something special, but it seemed almost certain he was focusing on the 2020 Olympics, looking to remain part of the North Korean amateur set up. With AIBA and the IOC falling out however Lee decided to turn professional, signing up with the highly established Teiken gym.
In late 2018 Lee, along with Mikito Nakano, took part in his B License Pro-test essentially announcing his intention to abandon the amateur system that had allowed him to shine. Instead of the Olympics he was turning professional, and looking to announce himself in the paid ranks.
Whilst Nakano made his debut in October 2018 Lee had to wait until February 2019, the same show that Nakano fought his second bout on. Despite the wait Lee seemed to want to leave a good impression, and quickly showed off a sharp jab, sticking it in the face of Thai foe Aphisit Namkhot at will. The Thai seemed to be mentally broken by the snap on the jab of Lee, who looked razor sharp, controlled distance brilliantly, and was quick, accurate and very relaxed.
Despite having controlled the Thai behind his lead hand for almost 3 minutes, Lee did finally let his left hand go late in the round, and it went right through at the end of the round dropping Aphisit for the count.
After his debut win Lee spoke about wanting to fight overseas and it seems like he wants to make a name for himself internationally. It's going to be exciting to see him do that. Although his debut opponent was poor he certainly looked a very classy fighter and has the size and skills to go a very, very long way.
It's fair to say that action is picking up, and going through February we are expecting to see a lot of great fights, in fact we've already seen some fantastic stuff, with this weekend being very notable.
Fighter of the Week
Junto Nakatani (18-0, 13)
Japan's Junto Nakatani has long been viewed as a major prospect as Flyweight and as one of Japan's hottest young talents. Coming into 2019 he had claimed the Rookie of the Year and Japanese Youth titles, showing that he had progressed beyond the novice leagues. This week he showed that he was far beyond that level as he took the Japanese Flyweight title, stopping the very brave, but thoroughly out classed, Naoki Mochizuki. Some had anticipated a walk in the park for Nakatani, though he was forced to work for this win and that brought out the best in him as he showed he could box, bang, move, and soak up pressure, before unleashing his uppercuts later on. It wasn't flawless from the youngster, but it was impressive.
Performance of the Week
Aston Palicte (25-2-1, 21)
Filipino puncher Aston Palicte really left us with no option this week, when it came to the "Performance of the Week", as he decimated the previously unbeaten Jose Martinez in just 2 rounds. The win saw Palicte become the WBO Super Flyweight mandatory challenger, but it was how he earned that position that was so impressive. The first round was quiet, it was as if Palicte wanted to see what Martinez had, before moving through the gears and just battering Martinez, dropping him repeatedly before the referee decided enough was enough. It was destructive, brutal and a real statement of intent from "Mighty".
Notable mention - Janibek Alimkhanuly - We had long criticised Alimkhanuly and his ability to fight with a professional boxing style, but few can fault how he performance this week. He did appear to carry Steven Martinez but was in total control. Now we will expecting top performances from the former amateur star.
Koki Eto (23-4-1, 18) Vs Romel Oliveros (9-4-1,4)
This past week is the first one where we didn't really get a fight that stood out as being something amazing, however it did have some really great moments. The best single bout, was another from the Japanese card on Saturday and saw the always amusing Koki Eto end up getting involved in a war with Filipiono Romel Oliveros. The fight looked like a mismatch, especially at the end of the opening round, when Oliveros was dropped twice. The Filipino however seemed to have the attitude of "if I'm going down I'm going to try and take you with me" which drew out the machismo from Eto who stood and had a war with Oliveros. Eto has long been a must watch fighter, making even mismatches incredibly tough for himself, and here he was again in a stupidly entertaining battle.
Ryugo Ushijima vs Shota Ogasawara (Round 2)
We know we're picking quite a lot of obscure rounds in this series for our Weekly Round of the Week section, but we can't help the fact that it's the Japanese under-card bout that are delivering breath taking stanza's. That was seen again this week when unbeaten 17 year old Ryugo Ushijima took on Shota Ogasawara. On paper this was not a bout worthy of attention, it was the first bout on a televised Japanese card, neither man was well known and, if we're being honest, the opening round seemed to suggest that Ushijima was too good of a boxer to struggle with Ogasawara. In round 2 however things went crazy as Ogsawara dropped Ushijima and we ended up getting something very special. A show of hear, courage and will to win. This is easily worth 3 minutes of time from any boxing fan.
Mikito Nakano KO1 Ekarak Laprakorn
We've not seen many real KO's this year, and even fewer have been body shots, but Mikito Nakano, take a bow. The former Japanese amateur standout knew he was too good for his over-match Thai opponent, Ekarak Laprakorn, and wasn't going to waste time carrying his man. Instead he closed the show mid-way through the opening round with a truly brutal straight left hand to the body. The shot was so painful you could almost see tears in Ekarak's eyes as he wondered whether or not his liver was going to function properly afterwards. It wasn't a competitive match up, which does take some shine away from the blow, but it was brutal and gorgeous to watch in all the angles that G+ later showed the shot from.
Notable mentions: Kuntae Lee KO1 Aphisit Namkhot, Ryugo Ushijima TKO2 Shota Ogasawara
Kuntae Lee (1-0, 1)
This was a strange week for prospects. You had two top Japanese prospects, Kuntae Lee and Mikot Nakano, in total mismatches against Thai's and the only other fighters you could regard as a prospect would be Takuya Mizuno, a who had his 17th fight and has bene a professional for more than 5 years, Junto Nakatani, who is now a Japanese national champion with 18 fights, or 25 year old former World Amateur Champion Janibek Alimkhanuly, who made his debut in 2016. Given those options we'll give this week to the debuting Lee. He was in a mismatch, and everyone knew it, but he showed a really sharp jab, lovely control of distance and lived up to the expectations put on his shoulders. Hopefully his next bout will be a more significant test though, as this was too easy.
Notable mentions: Mikito Nakano and Janibek Alimkhanuly
Hiroki Okada (19-0, 13) Vs Raymundo Beltran (35-8-1-1, 21)
The coming week sees quite a lot of exciting action to come, with notable shows in Thailand, the US and the Philippines. The pick of the bunch, at least on paper, seems to be the final bout with an Asian interest of the week, and will see unbeaten Japanese fighter Hiroki Okada taking on Mexican veteran Raymundo Beltran, in what looks likely to be a really interesting war. Okada will be the betting under-dog, given how disappointing he was on his US debut, but Beltran has looked old and worn and knows he will be fighting for his career. A really good match up! Our preview of this bout can be read here Okada and Beltran set to battle in must win bout!
Srisaket to fight on DAZN, will be featured on Febaruy 8th charity show!
This past week was a busy one, out of the ring, for Thailand with numerous stories, the most significant, by some margin, was that Srisaket Sor Rungvisai's future lies with DAZN. The WBC and Ring Magazine Super Flyweight champion has signed up with the streaming service who will air his next official fight. We say "official" fight as he is set to take part in an exhibition before that with Nawaphon Pro Chokchai, in what will be a charity event to raise money for medical supplies.The rematch with Juan Francisco Estrada is now expected to take place in early April on DAZN US.
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