It’s fair to say that 2020 was like no year we’ve lived through and it was a year that really did decimate the boxing calendar. Fighters that would typically fight 2, if not 3, times in a year were limited to just a single fight and on the whole almost no fighter of name value managed to fight more than once.
Whilst we did have some exceptions, most of whom were prospects or contenders, such as Israil Madrimov, Bektemir Melikuziev, Shohjahon Ergashev, Jin Sasaki, Jinki Maeda, Tursynbay Kulakhmet, Kamshybek Kunkabayev and Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, we saw very few fighters in the ring more than once.
With that in mind “Fighter of the Year” is an incredible weird award to hand out for the year.
We had two contrasting arguments as to why a fighter should win this award.
We had one argument suggesting that the “Fighter who moved their career forward the most” should win. We also had counter argument that that really isn’t a fair argument, and would lead to a prospect who wasn’t on the radar at the start of the year winning the award, favouring someone like Kulakhmet and Kunkabayev who went from the amateurs to being noteworthy prospects in just two professional bouts.
The other argument is that the ward should be kept to those who won at world level, after all they are winning at the highest level. Sadly this left very, very few Asian fighters in the running, and of course blurred things further with things like interim titles and secondary belts.
Despite having things blurred by the various world titles the idea that the Fighter of the Year, in 2020 at least, had to have fought at world level cut the list down to around 10. Of which 4 men stood out, allowing us to work from a short list.
and Murodjon Akhmadaliev
Thailand’s Pradabsri’s inclusion was based his huge upset win over Wanheng Menayothin in November, to claim theWBC Minimumweight title. It was a win that took him from relatively unknown Thai contender to a world champion with a career defining win over Wanheng, preventing his countryman from going 55-0. This was a massive win, and a huge upset. It was however a result that many disagreed with and felt was a gift to the younger man. It was a huge win, but one that was tainted somewhat.
Japan’s Nakatani was included based on his huge win over Giemel Magramo for the WBO Flyweight title. The talented youngster had promised so much through the early part of his carer and his win over Magramo was an exceptional one that helped him move from contender to champion in fantastic form. He out boxed, out fought, out punched and pretty much bullied Magramo at any distance in a performance that will give him huge confidence coming into 2021. A big win, but the opponent was perhaps not the best.
Fellow Japanese fighter Kazuto Ioka left his claim to the award super later, in one of the very last bouts of the year, as he stopped Kosei Tanaka at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo on the last day of the year. The win was a massive one, and one that saw Ioka enter as the under-dog, but walk away with his second defense of the WBO Super Flyweight title. Despite some controversy afterwards, relating to his visible tattoos and quotes attributed to him, it’s hard to deny just how big his single win of 2020 was.
For us however we had to go with the 4th and final option, Murodjon Akhmadaliev. The Uzbek southpaw had entered 2020 without a world title and with just 7 bouts to his name, the most notable of which were wins over Isaac Zarate and Carlos Carlson. Yet he ended the year the unified WBA “super” and IBF Super Bantamweight champion following a win way back on January 30th over Daniel Roman. The bout saw Akhmadaliev step up massively to take on a man on the fringes of the pound of round discussion, a unified champion who had had a brilliant 2019. It was a chance to prove that the rising Uzbek fighters were the real deal and it was Akhmadaliev’s big chance to make a statement. As for the bout it was a hotly contested win, it was a fantastic fight, with brilliant 2 way action, but it was one that Akhmadaliev deserved and with it he wholeheartedly deserves to be named The 2020 Asian Boxing Awards - Fighter of the Year.
When we talk about the best rounds we really do need to discuss what makes a round great.
For us a great round has action, and it has two men really battling hard and at a good tempo. However there are lots, and lots of rounds like that. For us there needs to be more than just a high tempo and back and forth, there also needs to be drama, there needs to be a risk, from both sides, of the man being stopped, or being hurt, at the very least.
We want to avoid rounds with excessive holding, and a limit on how much sloppy action and holding a bout has.
Knockdowns and point deductions, except for holding, can also add to a round, giving the action extra drama.
We also want to see both men giving as good as they get, or a major turn around in the round. If one man is decked twice but recovers to stop the other then that is exciting, and deserves to be credited as so. A little bit of controversy thrown in for good measure can also improve the quality of a round.
As with our Knockout of the Year we don't really care about the profile and ranking of the fighters. Two low level fighters giving on a great 3 minutes of action is just as valuable as two top names giving us the same type of action. After all it's the round that we are judging, not the fighters.
For us a round needs to perfectly combine drama, excitement and action, but it needs to stand on it's own as a round. What comes before it and after it are irrelevant. It's that round in isolation that matters.
Rounds that mix everything are few and far between, but we had a number that really had the drama, excitement and action that we needed.
The winner, in the end, was round 2 of the surprisingly amazing war between Junpei Tsujimoto and Daiki Ogura. This was just crazy from start to end and it swung one way and then the other.
The round started at a good pace, with a nice back and forth, but before long Tsujimoto was hurt, badly, by a left hook from Ogura. His legs stiffened and Ogura went in for the finish dropping Tsujimoto. Tsujimoto recovered to his feet but was rocked again and seemed in all sorts of trouble, despite doing all he could to clear his head and spoil the action before returning fire. His fate looked sealed before he landed a huge right hand with 20 seconds of he round remaining to stop Ogura.
The bout may not have been the cleanest action, it may not have had the big names, but it had everything we want to see. It had action, excitement, both men being hurt and a fantastic finish.
We may have had higher quality rounds through the year but no round left us feeling like we'd seen a movie scene quite like this one. Amazing round, amazing comeback.
Also up for this award were:
Zixiang Wang vs Mukhammadiso Zokhidov - Round 2 (A crazy round with Wang being dropped, Zokhidov being deducted a point and then Zokhidov being dropped)
Takuma Takahashi vs Leonardo Doronio - Round 3 (A thrilling round that saw Doronio dropped, Takahashi lucky not to be deducted a point, Doronio coming back to hurt Takahashi, Doronio being rocked again, Takahashi being cut and Doronio then being dropped and stopped)
Satoshi Shimizu vs Kyohei Tonomoto - Round 1 (A bizarre round where Tonomoto easily out boxed Shimizu in front of an empty Korakuen Hall, but was dropped twice in a round that didn't seem to make much sense but was fantastic to watch)
During 2020 we had a lot of great performances from fighters right through Asia, and at pretty much every level of the sport, from great novice performances to great performances at the top of the sport.
For us a great performance is more than just winning, it's about making people sit up and take notice. It's about showing what you can do and grabbing the attention of fans and creating a buzz, or rather increasing the buzz, around you. For us that was actually something we saw a lot of during the year. Fighters like Naoya Inoue, Masayoshi Nakatani and Junto Nakatani all did this excellently from Japan, Murodjon Akhmadaliev did it from Uzbekistan, Gennady Golovkin put in a surprisingly solid performance in December and hopefuls like Shohjahon Ergashev and Zhanibek Alimkhanuly left us desperately wanting more.
For us however the fighter had the best performance was John Riel Casimero, who left fans talking about him back on September 26th when he took to the ring at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, and battered Duke Micah into submission in 3 rounds.
The performance was far from a perfect one from the Filipino slugger, but the WBO Bantamweight champion knew going in that if he put on a punch perfect display they wouldn't remember him. Instead he had to go out and put on a show, and that was exactly what he did. From the opening seconds he fought like a man with a point to prove, swinging heavy leather from the off at his unbeaten challenger.
Micah, to his credit, played his part in trying to fight back against Casimero, but it only resulted in him taking more shots and being dragged into a wild, Casimero dominated, slugfest that left Micah on the end of some serious punishment before Steve Willis had to stop the fight in round 3.
Earlier in 2020 Casimero had been scheduled to face Naoya Inoue, before their bout fell apart as a result of Covid19. As a result of that Casimero knew he had to shine, he had to do something special, he had to do more than just win against the then 24-0 Micah. He knew he had to look exciting, and explosive, and maybe even a bit cocky and confident. He needed to make people in the West continue to watch to see him take on Inoue, no matter how long it was going to take. With a performance like the one he had against Micah, and the flamboyance he showed through out the bout, he did just that.
Yes there was more polished performances. There was smarter and more educated performances. But Casimero knew what he had to do, and he did that, putting on a show and making fans clamour for more of him. This was brilliant by Casimero and smart from his team, who continued to pressure Inoue for a bout.
When it comes to Knockout of the Year we know there are very different opinions on what qualifies as a great KO. We know many value the level of the fight and fighters higher than the quality of the knockout, and many of the awards on other websites ignore lower level fights when it comes to the best KO of the year.
We go the opposite way, and we rate the knockout based on the KO. We couldn't give a rats who scores it and who it's against, we just want the most brutal KO, regardless of who the fighters are.
With that in mind we aren't limited to big fights for KO's and we get to talk about some obscure and brilliant KO's during our end of year awards. In 2019 that allowed us to select Ho Joon Jung brutal KO of Si Woo Lee as our award winner, a bout that many won't have seen, but a KO that was truly sickening, as you can see below.
This year we've again come across some brilliant KO's from obscure fights, such as James Bacon's brutal KO of Roque Agustin Junco in November, Aito Abe's fantastic blow out of Kentaro Omori in September and the vicious combination of Rentaro Kimura against Yuya Azuma in July.
After looking back over a huge list of KO's from through the year our winner came from an August 9th bout at the Aioi Hall on a Central Japan Rookie of The Year event between Tsubasa Murata and Yuya Miyazaki. This was brutal.
The KO came from a single straight right hand and left Miyazaki out flat on his face. Not only was it a gorgeous shot but it also also came with a brilliantly smart set up from Murata, who forced Miyazaki to make a mistake following several feints earlier on, and then lowered the boom.
Look below to enjoy The 2020 Asian Boxing Awards - KO of the Year.
A few days ago we announced The 2020 Asian Boxing Awards - Comeback of the Year (Fighter) award winner. Today we look at the other side of the comeback of the year, and that is where a fighter has fought in a bout, mounting a comeback when a loss looked like a foregone conclusion, as opposed to a fighter returning to the ring after years of inactivity.
For this award there was only going to be one winner, and that is, of course, Masayoshi Nakatani whose sensational performance against Felix Verdejo earned him this award.
After well over a year out of the ring, and a retirement, we suspect Nakatani had been offered a relatively hefty payday to fight Verdejo and become a victim of the once touted Puerto Rican. A good win for Verdejo against Nakatani was going to make an all Top Rank bout between Verdejo and Teofimo Lopez, who was severely tested by Nakatani in 2019, incredibly interesting and enticing. And that’s what was expected, Nakatani was supposed to be there to make Verdejo look good, and boost his standing in the sport.
The belief that Verdejo was going to win looked even more secure in round 1 of their bout, when Nakatani was dropped, hard, from a huge right hand. The first knockdown of his career. Verdejo continually landed big right hands through the early rounds as Nakatani’s chin got checked time and time again, and the commentators seemed to feel confident that a stoppage was going to come for Verdejo, simply seemed unable to miss in rounds 2 and 3.
In round 4 Nakatani was down for the second time in the bout, suffering the second knockdown of his career. It was a flash knockdown, but secured Verdejo a 10-8 round on all 3 cards. By that point it seemed that all Verdejo needed to do was stay on his feet for the final 6 rounds. Two of the judges had him leading 40-34 and the third judge had the bout 40-35, with that judge giving the opening round 10-9.
The success of Verdejo continued in round 5, though he was shaken late in the round as Nakatani began his fight back. By the point it was clear he was going to need something big. Really big. And that was where things started to change, with Verdejo seemingly having his confidence beginning to be questioned in rounds 6, 7 and 8. It was clear that Nakatani, despite being a huge hole, was the man coming on strong. Despite that he was still in a massive hole as we entered round 9. Two of the judges had the bout 78-72 in favour of Verdejo, the other 77-74. For him to win Nakatani needed to not just win the final two rounds, but to win them big. Essentially he was going to need either a knockout in the final 2 rounds, or repeated knockdowns.
Then Nakatani came out roaring for round 9 and within seconds of the round beginning he had hurt Verdejo. The commentary was slow to react, talking about the potential Anthony Joshua Vs Tyson Fury fight. They didn’t seem aware of the trouble Verdejo was in, and then moments later Verdejo was down. There was light at the end of the tunnel for Nakatani, and Verdejo looked like a man who had had his fighting spirit broken. To his credit Verdejo got to his feet. Likely the instincts of a man who has boxed for most of his life, but he was barely conscious of where he was. A follow up for Nakatani when the bout resumed saw Verdejo hit the canvas again. This time he wasn’t getting up.
From the verge of defeat Nakatani had snatched victory in a dramatic and thrilling manner, taking the biggest win of his career.
This win and performance was very, very worthy of our 2020 Asian Boxing Awards - Comeback of the Year (Fight), and fingers crossed we see Nakatani getting another big fight in 2021 on the back of this amazing comeback.
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