It's impossible to deny the importance of the OPBF title belts in Asian boxing. It is a belt that almost every great Asian boxer has won on their way to becoming successful. It's almost a ritual that you need to do before even dreaming of becoming a boxing legend.
Sadly the OPBF title has become less and important over the past few years and whilst it was once "the Asian title" it's now become much more of a "Japan v Philippines" title with very little competition coming from Thailand or South Korea.
In the past the OPBF belt was fought for by the best in all of Asia. With boxing taking a down swing in South Korea, Thai's focussing on the PABA belts and China not yet fully running a major boxing operation we're left with just Japan and the Philippines.
Whilst the lack of competition for the OPBF belts could have been a reason to complain I view it as a doubled edged sword. Yes their is fewer countries competing and the talent pool has clearly shrunk, though on the flip side we now have a regular rivalry between two Asian boxing super powers. Yes it'd be nice if top Thai's were to join in but having regular "Japan v Philippines" contests does give both countries a reason to really get behind their fighters.
Right now their are 7 male OPBF title fights arranged. Of those 7 bouts two are all Japanese contests and one is an all Filipino contest. The first of those will be a Japanese/OPBF Middleweight unification contest as Akio Shibata battles Daisuke Nakagawa in a great domestic bout, just 10 days later we then get another all Japanese OPBF bout as Light Middleweights collide and Koji Numata fights Takehiro Shimokawara. The all Filipino contest sees Ardin Diale fighting Chris Paulino for the vacant Flyweight.
After those two bouts we're then left with 4 successive "Japan v Philippines" title fights over the space of just 3 weeks. Amazingly 3 of them take place inside a single week!
The best thing though isn't the fact we have so many fights in such a short space of time, instead it's the fact that e have those bouts across a span of weight divisions. The lowest of the fights is at 105lbs, the highest is at 140lbs whilst the other titles are Bantamweight and Featherweight. This gives both countries a chance to put across a few of their best fighters in some of boxing's most competitive divisions.
The first of these 4 fights takes place on March 24th when Hisashi Amagasa (25-4-2, 16) defends his OPBF Featherweight title for the first time.
Amagasa, a freakishly tall Featherweight, hasn't got an easy assignment ahead of him despite the fact his opponent, Vinvin Rufino (34-15-3, 16), has a less than flattering record. This something the OPBF themselves acknowledge by having Rufino ranked #1.
Amagasa won the title last October by beating Ryol Li Lee an avenging a loss from 3 years prior. The loss to Lee was Amagasa's last loss and he is currently on a 10 fight winning streak. Amagasa went from a mediocre 15-4-2 to a wonderful 25-4-2 in his last 10 bouts so he will know himself that records don't tell the full story of a fighter.
Rufino has been unfortunate in a lot of his losses. He has often taken fights on late notice, he has often had to travel for fights, going to South Africa, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia and in some cases he has just been flat out robbed. I'm not going to claim Rufino is world class, far from it, but he is significantly better than his record indicates, as proven by his two narrowly losses to Sipho Taliwe and his loss Naoki Matsuda in his only previous OPBF title fight.
Whilst I feel Rufino is much better than his record suggests I'd still suggest that Amagasa should win this one. 1-0 Japan I guess.
Just a day after the Featherweight title fight we then drop to the Bantamweight division as Ryosuke Iwasa (16-1, 10) defends his OPBF Bantamweight title against Filipino Richard Pumicpic (14-5-2, 4). As with Amagasa's fight this will be Iwasa's first title defense and he'll be fighting the #1 contender.
Iwasa is a fighter I've been keeping a close eye on and have been a big fan of since early in his career. His talent is obvious and as well as currently holding the OPBF title he has also won the Japanese belt and is the WBC #1 ranked contender. With power, talented, speed and skill "Eagle Eye" is a man I have been tipping for a world title and feel that this will be his next step to one.
Unfortunately I rather like Pumicpic who, like Rufino, has a marked up record though is significantly better than the raw numbers would indicate. In fact from his 5 losses 3 of them have been majority or split decision with the other two have been very competitive decision. As well as his losses he has also been unfortunate in his draws including a majority draw with Japan's very own Yohei Tobe. He's tough, he's rough and he's a handful for most fighters in and around Super Flyweight and Bantamweight.
Unfortunately I against need to pick the Japanese fighter. Iwasa is a genuine Bantamweight whilst I have the feeling Pumicpic could make Super Flyweight tomorrow if he wanted. He'll still give Iwasa a headache but I just can't see Iwasa losing his title. 2-0 Japan
The third of the "Japan v Philippines" bouts sees the unbeaten Ryuji Hara (16-0, 10) fighting against Donny Mabao (21-20-1, 4) for the vacant OPBF Minimumweight title. This bout, on March 30th, looks like a complete mismatch on paper with an unbeaten fighter taking on an opponent who has won just 50% of their bouts, though we genuinely expect it to be amongst the most competitive match ups.
Hara, a former Japanese champion, is taking his first step up to the OPBF level and will be trying to claim his second title. Unfortunately however I am doubtful over just how good Hara actually is and in his 4 Japanese title fights he really struggled. He is unbeaten but with slightly different judging he could easily have lost some of those bouts.
Mabao, like the other two Filipino's already mentioned, has a very misleading record. Looking at his record you'd assume he's a poor journeyman who only beats the odd novice. The truth however is that he's been in with some very good fighters and has one or two notable victories as well as some very debatable losses. The most notable victories on his record have come against Florante Condes, in his last bout, an Mateo Handig a few fights earlier, whilst he has suffered close losses to Ronald Castrodes, Kwanthai Sithmorseng, Ryan Bito and Merlito Sabillo.
Hara has to go in to this bout as the favourite based on just his record but I'm liking the upset and if it Mabao does manage to get it we'd then get the score to 2-1.
The final OPBF be to be currently scheduled is on April 14th an is by far the most well matched. The contest, for the Light Welterweight title sees the unbeaten Adones Cabalquinto (15-0, 8) taking on the once beaten Keita Obara (10-1, 9).
For the first time it's the Filipino fighter with the better record and it's Cabalquinto, pictured, who will be risking an unbeaten record. Unfortunately that does tell us quite a bit about Cabalquinto who is fighting in a weight division which lacks real talent on the domestic stage. He has been a former Filipino champion though his competition has been weak. He's still very capable, talented and promising but there are a lot of question marks surrounding his true potential.
With a loss to his name Obara's record is marked but his record also shows his impressive KO power stopping 9 of his 11 opponents. More impressively 8 of those KO's have come successive fights with victories coming against Kazuya Maruki, Hayato Hokazono and So Takenaka. Those results for Obara came after he suffered a debut defeat at the hands of the very experienced Kazuyoshi Kumano, a defeat that although bad on paper seemed to allow Obara to learn a lot.
This bout is easily the most well matched contest amongst the 4 "Japan v Philippines" though unfortunately it's another one where I'll be siding with the Japanese fighter who I suspect will end the series of fights with a 3-1 lead to Japan.
(Pictures thanks to the OPBF, Boxmob, boxrec.com and Celes gym)
Kazakhstan's destructive Gennady Golovkin (29-0, 26) successfully retained his WBA Middleweight world title again last weekend though left some fans, including myself, wondering what was next.
We all want Golovkin to fight a real rival, some one that could really allow us to gauge how good he is. Instead it seems the Middleweight division is full of fighters waiting for someone else to "expose" Golovkin before being willing to step in the ring with him. They'd rather wait for Golovkin to lose and pick up the title from whoever beats him rather than show the bravery of actually getting in their to beat him.
Sadly the lack of willing on part of the other Middleweights has left us in a bit of a frustrating situation.
Firstly the "de facto" Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez has shown no interest in fighting Golovkin. He'd rather look for big pay days and retire with a bank full of money. No problem there with him fighting Miguel Cotto next though lets not forget that Martinez himself was given his chance when Paul Williams agree to fight him in what turned out to be one of the best fights of 2009. If any fighter should know about being ignored it should be Martinez who, if he's not willing to fight Golovkin, should at least give him props.
Instead of giving Golovkin props for taking out a swathe of the Middleweight contenders Martinez has actually been very disrespectful to to Kazakh. Less than a year ago he was quoted, by his advisor, as saying "he would toy with him for 12 rounds". Now however their seems to be a clear unwillingness to actually back up those words. Strange what a difference a few months make.
If Martinez is the first choice then American Peter Quillin, the WBO champion, would clearly be the second choice. Unfortunately Quillin would be unavailable to fight Golovkin due to contractual obligations the fighters have to various television channels. Golovkin is a HBO fighter whilst Quillin is a Showtime fighter.
For Quillin though the TV deal is a wonderful get out clause of fighter a man he showed no intention of fighting anyway. He has talked the talk whilst hiding behind his advisor Al Haymon and the politics of the situation whilst fighting much lesser fighters than Golovkin, including Gabriel Rosado who Golovkin defeated before Quillin fought him. If Quillin was showing an intention of fighting other elite Middleweights then one may believe that the politics was the only wall in the way of the fight. Instead it's clear that he has little to no intention of fighting any other champion.
Whilst Martinez is chasing his big pay days and Quillin is hiding behind Al Haymon and Showtime it seems the only available champion would be IBF champion Felix Sturm. Sturm unfortunately showed his true colours when Golovkin was his mandatory and he did all he could to avoid the hard hitting Kazakh.
The German, who looked rejuvenated when he stopped Darren Barker last year, would clearly have apprehensions of traveling to the US for a Golovkin bout whilst Golovkin would be equally unlikely to travel to Germany for the bout. Unfortunately this is a bout that seems to have been more plausible when Golovkin was an unknown to the US market.
With none of the fellow champions willing to fight Golovkin we then need to look at the top selection of contenders.
Unfortunately WBA #1 ranked challenger Martin Murray has shown his true colours already. Offered the Monaco fight early in February Murray declined it. Sadly, due to Murray's criminal record, the British fighter won't be allowed to fight in the US and with the Monaco date passing him by it's obvious that he never fancied his chances.
Rather than try and draw Golovkin outside of the US Murray has instead agreed to fight Sturm in Germany for the IBF title. The money might be better than he'd have gotten on the Monaco show but he certainly wouldn't have been receiving peanuts either way.
Another top contender, and the man I wanted to see fight Golovkin, Daniel Geale has turned down the Golovkin fight stating that HBO were unwilling to change the date of the fight. Golovkin and his team had booked a specific venue for his return to the US in April. They booked it months in advance and Geale, who could have taken the fight, has instead complain about Australian audiences not being able to see it live because it clashes with UFC.
The fact Golovkin is willing to go head-to-head with UFC in America shows his confidence in drawing an audience. Unfortunately Geale, who apparently wants to let his Australian compatriots see him getting flattened, isn't confident enough in taking the fight and making the Australian TV companies feel ashamed of not supporting their man.
One possibility that could make sense would be Geale's compatriot Sam Soliman. Although he would be an unpopular choice with HBO and US fans he would be allowed by the WBA, who rank him at #15. To his credit Soliman is an old school fighter who will get in the ring for a fight with anyone. Aged 40 however he would likely be slated by Golovkin critics as little more than an old and second rate challenger.
Another man who is unavailable, and has actually turned Golovkin down in the past, is Marco Antonio Rubio who will be fighting for the WBC interim title in the coming months. On paper Rubio would have been a decent opponent but his unwillingness to meet Golovkin in the past, and his guaranteed WBC interim title fight rule him out as a possible foe.
If we go through the WBA rankings there is only really 3 plausible opponents left.
Jarrod Fletcher, Sergio Mora and Andy Lee, pictured. Unfortunately Fletcher would be destroyed and everyone knows it, Mora is about as TV friendly as a colonoscopy and this effectively leaves us with Andy Lee.
Lee, who has a sizable following from Irish-Americans, isn't very good. He's no better than Adama, who Golovkin just stopped, or Matthew Macklin, who Golovkin has also stopped. Thankfully he is known to the US audience, though he's probably best known for being stopped by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Brian Vera. Doesn't bode well for him if he gets in to the ring with Golovkin.
Gennady might be the most exciting Middleweight on the planet but it's obvious that he's a real nightmare to match. The only men who fans want to see him fight won't touch him and instead he's reserved to wiping out every B and C grade fighter in the division.
Unfortunately it can hurt to be as good as Golovkin is.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.