Whilst we could speak wonderful words about the year we've had it needs to be noted that the year hasn't been great for everyone, as our Downfall fighter of the Year, will attest to.
Strangely it's been a bad year for a number of Filipino fighters, we say strangely because it's been the Filipino's have also collected more upset wins than pretty much any other country. Their upsets have sadly just covered what has been a rather frustrating year for a number of other fighters from the Pearl of the Orient. Though they certainly aren't alone in having year's to forget.
Among the men who will want to scrub 2019 from their collective memories are:
Aston Palicte - Went 0-2 for the year
Mercito Gesta - Went 0-1-1 for the year
Milan Melindo - Went 0-1 for the year
Mark John Yap - Went 1-2 for the year
Ricky Sismundo - Went 0-3 for the year (though was matched incredibly hard)
Taiki Minamoto - Went 0-1-1 for the year
Reiya Abe - Went 1-1-1 for the year
Ryota Yada - Went 1-2 for the year
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai - Went 0-1 for the year
Knockout CP Freshmart - Went 1-0 for the year (whilst being a world champion!)
Despite all the fighters above who will want to forget 2019, either for results or for inactivity, looking at you Knockout CP Freshmart!, there is one man who really does need some extra attention. That is Donnie Nietes.
Nietes began 2019 as the WBO Super Flyweight champion, having come off an controversial win over Kazuto Ioka on New Year's Eve. It seemed almost certain that that title was going to lead him to a big fight, potentially a unification bout or the long anticipated showdown with Roman Gonzalez. Instead however he vacated the title in spring, citing the pursuit of bigger fights. Had he just vacated and retired it would have been the perfect end for his career, a truly legendary career. Instead the idea that he was chasing bigger fights left the idea he was still an active fighter, ready for a super fight, a final show down.
We waited for Nietes to fight. We continued to wait. The months rolled by and nothing, no fights, no news, just silence. By the end of 2019 Nietes had vacated the title and done nothing. Well, we guess got a tattoo, but that's been it. A real waste of a year for a man who is far too old to get away with a year of ring rust.
Sorry Donnie but this year, you really did mess up, just as it seemed something big could have been on the horizon.
Coming in to 2019 Filipino puncher Jhunriel Ramonal (17-8-6, 10) had no career momentum. He had fought just once in the previous 4 years, and even that was just a draw in 2018. He ends the year, however, with a new found reputation as a Japanese killer after scoring a second huge win in Japan, and has instantly put himself in the mix for a world title fight!
Back in October Ramonal stopped former world title challenger Shingo Wake, taking out Wake in brutal fashion at the end of round 3. Today he returned to Japan and blew out Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) [久我勇作], inside a round, to claim the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Super Bantamweight title.
From the off both men were letting heavy leather go. Neither seemed to feel like they were in need of their defense. That was a dangerous gameplan and a huge, sweeping right hand from Ramonal dropped Kuga. Kuga beat the count but failed to prove he was in a fit state to continue, and the referee waved off the bout.
The stoppage came at 1:24 of round 1.
Given that Ramonal seemingly walked away from the sport in 2014, following a 4 fight stretch that saw him lose 3 of his previous 4, his 2019 has been massive and this is a second massive upset win over a world ranked fighter this year! Although not the best boxer, he's a monster puncher, and has proven his win over Wake wasn't a fluke.
As for Kuga this will be a hard loss to rebuild from. He had managed to put a 2018 loss to Wake behind him, and reclaimed the Japanese national title, but with 2 stoppage losses in 5 bouts it's going to leave the Watanabe man with a lot of question marks over his durability and chin.
(Photo Credit - A. McGovern)
The second of 6 title fights from the Ota City General Gymnasium today saw youngster Yume Hirayama (5-0) [平山 夢] repeat her debut win, out pointing Marina Sayama (4-2-1, 2) [佐山万里菜], and claim the Japanese female Flyweight title.
Hirayama established her jab quickly and almost instantly set the distance for the bout behind her straight shots. It was a smart start for the 19 year old and saw her get her nose in front before Sayama could settle. Rather than letting her older opponent in to the fight Hirayama continued to be busy, and took round 2. She did slow however in round 3, as Sayama began to get her shots off a touch quicker than she had earlier.
Knowing she was behind Sayama began to try and turn things around, and the fight notably changed with Sayama cutting the distance from round 4. The pressure from Sayama saw her have some success, though in reality she still struggled to have much success.
After 6 rounds it seemed like Sayama had closed the scores in the second half. The judges however were unimpressed by her effort, with each of them scoring the bout 59-55 to Hirayama, who takes her second win over Sayama and the Japanese title!
To open today's big show in Japan fans at the Ota City General Gymnasium saw WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight champion Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4) [重岡銀次朗] score his first defense, and do so in style!
The 20 year old was up against former world title challenger Rey Loreto (25-15, 17), and on paper this looked like a really tough first defense. Whilst Loreto is certainly not unbeatable he has proven to be a tough, rugged fighter, with heavy hands and a real desire to win, even if he does tend to come up short.
What few, other than Shigeoka himself, expected was an early win, though that's exactly what the youngster delivered.
Loreto tried to jab early on, and despite some success he felt the power and speed of Shigeoka and was dropped in the first round. As a response Loreto then began to stand his ground, trying to out man his younger opponent. That was a mistake, as Shigeoka, but a mistake though brought the veteran some success despite taking punishment himself.
In round 3 Loreto landed a good counter, but failed to land any sort of follow up as Shigeoka regrouped, and in round 5 he began to really pound the body of Loreto, hurting him, before dropping him with a hard left hand. Loreto was unable to beat the count, being counted out at an official time of 2:13 of round 5.
Amazingly this was only the second time in 40 fights that Loreto has been stopped, with the only other time coming back in 2011 to the then 13-0 Paipharob Kokietgym. For Shigeoka to take him out like this, was a genuine statement!
After the Loreto told the press that Shigeoka was strong and cleaver and seemed impressed by the youngster. As for Shigeoka, who sported some very clear bruising under his right eye, he was very analytical of his own performance. He seemed to suggest that his eardrum was damaged in round 2 and that he had damaged one of his hands, but didn't appear too worried about either injury. Instead he seemed to suggest that he wanted to fight for a world title next year.
Although no plans are set for Shigeoka's next in ring move he will be returning to Kumamoto in the new year for the coming of age ceremony in January.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
If we're being honest there wasn't many fighters who really had much of a comeback in 2019, hence this award coming out before the year ends. Looking both regionally and globally the short list here, was a very short list. So short in fact that we saw some people making up their global short list with Keith Thurman, a man who went 1-1 in the year with no genuine top level win.
Globally the winner was an obvious one, Jean Pascal, who has some how ended the year with with decision wins over Marcus Browne and Badou Jack despite being written off...repeatedly in recent years.
For Asia the list was really, really tiny, and left us really with only one option. Ryota Murata.
The Japanese Middleweight was embarrassed in 2018 when Rob Brant dominated him. He used him as a human punch bag and it was a 1-sided beating from the first round to the last, as Murata walked forced, trudging towards Brant and eating more leather than was good for him.
It seemed like the Japanese fighter was set to face a repeat set back in July when the two men rematched, but instead Murata mowed through the American in style. Ripping up the pre-fight expectations. Brant had entered the bout as a 1/3 favourite, but Murata battered him in just 2 rounds in one of the most impressive performances from Murata so far. Some may argue about the stoppage but the reality is that Brant could have been stopped earlier in the round as Murata unloaded power shots with little coming back.
Whatever had caused the loss in the first bout wasn't clear, but that loss seemed to have ignited a new fire and anger in the Japanese fighter who suddenly looked a rejuvenated force.
In December Murata notched his second win, securing himself the Asian Comeback of the Year award, by stopping Steven Butler in 5 rounds.
This saw Murata go from being written off as someone ready to retire, to someone who ended the year ready for mega fights with global stars at the Tokyo Dome. It's hard to argue that anyone has had the turn around Murata has had this year.
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