Our final award for 2019 is the Prospect of the Year award, and it was one of the toughest to decide on, with a host of fighters in the discussion. There was different arguments to be had for different fighters.
For example Thai teenager Thanongsak Simsri had activity on his side, notching 8 wins during the year. He also impressed in many of those wins and his December victory over Christian Bacolod was genuinely very noteworthy. Similarly Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, who only turned 16 at the start of 2020...and that's not a typo, went 5-0 in 2019 and won "The Fighter" in Thailand.
Another couple of Thai's worthy of a mention were Oscar Mastertoddygym, who debuted at the start of the year and had 2 solid wins by the end of it, and Chainoi Worawut, who went 6-0 (5) for the year and became the face of Work Point Boxing.
From the Philippines there was Carl Jammes Martin, who went 4-0 (4) for the year, and proved himself to be as good of a "TV fighter" as anyone else in the sport. The youngster was asked to step up, and that's exactly what he did. Jayson Mama went 3-0 (1) but all 3 wins were solid ones, and he now seems set for a huge 2020, whilst Dave Apolinario impressed us time and time again.
Although Korean teenagers Min Jang and Han Bin Suh both claimed versions of Korean titles in 2019 both should be regarded as prospects and both had solid years. On the other hand the Korean "Battle Royal" tournament allowed Da Won Gang and Sung Min Yuh to shine. However the standout for Korea this year was 18 year old Jong Seon Kang.
The obvious choice to look at was probably Uzbekistan, and with Israil Madrimov and Bektemir Melikuziev shining either of those two could have taken the award. Both men excelled this year and both seem certainly be in the world title mix in 2020.
Talking about the world title mix 20 year old Japanese fighter Ginjiro Shigeoka is another who will be in the world title mix in 2020, and has already impressed, with the youngster winning his first title and beating a former world title challenger. Likewise his older brother Yudai Shigeoka beating an OPBF champion in his second bout was incredibly impressive.
Overall though the fairest pick seems to be someone who has mixed activity with competition, and is still young. With that in mind we've picked a 21 year old who went 5-0 (4) against good competition. That was Kazakh Sadriddin Akhmedov. The Canadian based Kazakh not only impressed in terms of results, but also performance and showed absolutely everything we could have wanted to see in a young hopeful. He showed he could box, he could bang, he could fight, and no matter what he did he always in complete control. From his 29 rounds fought in 2019 we suspect he only lost maybe 3, if that. He was fantastic. He might not be on the verge of a world title fight, like some others, but he had the complete year. Expect huge things form him in 2020.
One of the most important annual recognition, from any site, is that of Fighter of the Year. This is given to the fighter who has impressed and achieved the most over 12 months. Some years this is a tough one to award out, especially if two or more fighters have both done something similarly impressive. Other years one many rises above all others and makes it clear that they are head and shoulders above the others.
This year was one of the latter, with Japan's Naoya Inoue standing out well above the others.
During 2019 Inoue did everything we could have asked. He faced top competition, he answered serious questions, he unified titles, he created history, he scored a win over a hall of famer, and despite the year likely having a longer term impact on his career he was the clear winner of Fight of the Year.
He began his year in May when he travelled over to the UK and defeated IBF Bantamweight Emmanuel Rodriguez in 2 rounds in Glasgow in the WBSS semi-final. This was the first time, in history, a Japanese fighter had won a world title fight in Europe, and Inoue had done it against an unbeaten and high regarded opponent. Rodriguez had been in good form, with wins over Paul Butler and Jason Moloney, and was supposed to be Inoue's toughest opponent. Rodriguez however became Inoue's 4th successive opponent to be stopped in the first 3 rounds, and like the previous 3 he had never previously been stopped.
Around 6 months later we finally got the long awaited WBSS final and Inoue met a resurgent Nonito Donaire, in what turned out to be our 2019 Fight of the Year. Inoue was expected to blow through the Filipino veteran, after all that's what he had been doing to other fighters, but instead he was given a gutcheck. He was tested for the first time in years, and Donaire asked questions of the Japanese star. Inoue had to fight through adversity, suffering the first cut of his career, and fight through it he did. He gritted out tough moments, dropped Donaire, and ended up proving he wasn't just a hard hitting bully in the ring. He proved he could take a shot, he proved he was wanting to impress, he could get through tough patches and could adapt, even to a serious injury.
The win saw him unify the WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles as well as taking the Muhammad Ali Trophy in an excellent year for the Monster.
Whilst some fans will hold his struggle against Donaire against him, there was a lot more positives to take from the win than negatives.
Following the win over Donaire it was announced that he had signed a deal with Top Rank, and would be making his Top Rank debut in 2020, with the hope being to further unify Bantamweight titles. Fingers crossed the injuries suffered against Donaire don't limit his future too much, or delay his rise to further stardom.
Boxing in China has been on the growth in recent years, and we've seen regular shows in the country, though the talent on some of those cards has been rather mixed, with very few fighters truly standing out. Thankfully for the Chinese scene however one fighter managed to really make a statement in 2019, and was quite clearly the Revelation of the Year. That was Chinese Featherweight Can Xu, who really ended the year as a must watch fighter.
Can made his US debut in September 2018 and did little to impress, scraping an 8 round split decision over Mexican journeyman Enrique Bernache. A single round swing on Patracia Morse Jarman's card and there's a real chance that we wouldn't be talking about Xu today. As it though his fortune has paid off, and 2019 has seen him put that Bernache bout behind him in style.
In February Xu made a real statement statement, out fighting the hard hitting Jesus M Rojas to claim the WBA "regular" Featherweight title. The result was an upset win for Xu who has gone from strength to strength ever since.
Following his world title win Xu returned to China and scored his first defense in front of fans in his place of birth in a true home coming defense, against former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo. The fight, like his title win, was a hugely entertaining win and although Kubo was out of his depth Xu still put on a show, out working and then breaking down and stopping the Japanese challenger.
That would have been enough to have sealed Xu this award, but he wasn't done yet and in November he returned to a US ring to take on unbeaten American challenger Manny Robles III. This looked a tough test for the champion but turned out to be an easy win for Xu who totally dominated Robles, and set an incredibly pace, with punch numbers suggesting he had thrown over 1500 punches in the 12 round bout. What was supposed to be a tough second defense against an unbeaten challenger turned out to be little more than a showcase for Xu.
With 3 solid wins, 3 eye catching and exciting performances, a charming personality, Can Xu was clearly the break out fighter of 2019!
In late 2019 we did a number of short articles under "The Round Review" banner, covering 14 of the best rounds from 2019. Now we've selected one of those as our round of the year.
The round we selected was the brilliant second round from the Japanese Youth Bantamweight title between Toshiya Ishii and Haruki Ishikawa. The bout wasn't aired live anywhere though the bout got rave reviews from fans in the venue. When it was made available to watch, on tape delay, and even knowing the result we didn't expect the round too live up to the expectations we had. Amazingly it exceeded the expectations with the two men really hammering each other with bombs in a thrilling, round of action.
The round pitted two youngsters against each other, and whatever it is Japanese youngsters, facing off for Japanese Youth titles, do tend to provide thrilling action. They seems to want that Youth title to help launch their careers to bigger and better things. That was on show here.
Just seconds into the round we had a knockdown, not long after that the two men rocked each other with simultaneous left hooks as they stood and traded. A few moments of sloppy action, as both tried to get their senses back followed before the round rebuilt to give us an exceptional final 90 seconds or so.
This was a great example of Japanese officiating, with the referee not looking to interfere at every opportunity but letting fight on the inside. Yes the third man was involved a few times but his involvement was short, necessary and not there to break the action but to get it restarted.
This was drama, this was bombs away and this was the start of the end, with the bout ending in round 4 when Ishikawa was almost sent out of the ring.
We know fans will suggest that others rounds deserve this honour, notably the 11th round of Naoya Inoue Vs Nonito Donaire, and whilst that was an amazing, really it was, we preferred seeing Ishii and Ishikawa stumbling away from each other, rather than Ernie Sharif giving Inoue a body check. The best thing about 2019 however is that we had about 20 rounds that could all be spoken about in depth. Last year was an amazing year, and a year that should be celebrated for what it delivered!
Through 2019 we had some truly amazing fights, at the very top of the sport and right through to domestic level fights. The short list for fight of the year was genuinely an extensive one, and fights like Gennadiy Golovkin Vs Sergiy Derevyanchenko, or Hiroto Kyoguchi Vs Tetsuya Hisada were fantastic fights worthy of a rematch, as was Moruti Mthalane Vs Masayuki Kuroda, though sadly we've yet to stumble on a copy of the fight to rewatch.
Despite the deep list of great fights we had in 2019 there was one fight that stood out as the clear Fight of the Year, and that was the WBSS Bantamweight final dubbed the "Drama in Saitama". The bout pit Japanese star Naoya Inoue against a resurgent Nonito Donaire and delivered the WBSS final that we deserved, even if it wasn't the one many had pegged at the beginning of the tournament.
Inoue got to the final in destructive fashion. He had taken care of Juan Carlos Payano in just 70 seconds before creating history in 2019 by becoming the first Japanese fighter to ever win a world title bout in Europe, stopping Emmanuel Rodriguez in Scotland. Donaire's route to the final was a little more interesting, taking an injury related win over Ryan Burnett in an upset then flattening Stephon Young, a late replacement for Zolani Tete, in 6 rounds.
Whilst many anticipated a blow out for Inoue what we got was proof that Donaire, at Bantamweight, is still a dangerous fighter, a heavy handed and tough fighter with the experience to see out some real danger. We also saw just how big of a Bantamweight he was, as he looked a division bigger than the local star, and unlike anyone we've seen he walked through huge shots from Inoue, at least until round 11 when he was finally sent down.
The bout had everything. We saw both men hurt, we saw Inoue fight through adversity, as he suffered double vision and a fractured orbital early on, we saw Donaire fight through some serious punishment himself, and some how pulled himself off the canvas in round 11 following a body shot that would have stopped anyone else in the division.
The only sour points in the entire fight was the odd decision from referee Ernie Sharif to essentially jump in front of Inoue in round 11, and the poor scorecard of Robert Hoyle, who had the bout decided on the basis of the knockdown. But they were minor complaints and did little to mar a bout that deserves all the plaudits it's been getting ever since.
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