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.
When we talk about comebacks in boxing there are two types, and unlike most sites we like to split into those two types. One is the comeback within a fight and one is a comeback in terms of a career. For this award we’re looking specifically at the biggest comeback from a fighter in regards to their career, and there can only be one possible winner for this award given what has gone on in 2020, and the past few years.
That was Katsunari Takayama (32-8-0-1, 12), who returned in December, after more than 4 years away from professional boxing, and easily out pointed the world ranked Reiya Konishi in a performance that showed the “Lightning Kid” still has the goods.
Originally Takayama had wanted to compete at the 2020 Olympics, but those dreams were dashed in 2019 when he completely failed to make a mark on the domestic amateur scene. It seemed that that was the end for Takayama, who had seemingly ended his professional career in 2016. Then in early 2020 he announced he was returning to professional boxing and linked up with Nohubiro Ishida as Neyagawa Ishida Boxing Club. This was as he was approaching his 37th birthday.
In Japan a fighter who is 37 typically won’t get licenses, unless they have fought in the last 3 years. Takayama hadn’t done that and would typically have needed to squeeze in a fight before his birthday in May. That was the plan, but the plan fell apart when Covid19 put boxing on hiatus in Japan. Some would have taken that as a sign and scrapped the comeback idea. Takayama however asked the JBC to essentially pause their rules, something they did due to the situation in Japan.
He was then supposed to fight in November, against Konishi, but the bout was cancelled at the 11th hour when Konishi had a positive Covid19 test. That again could have been taken as a sign for Takayama to abort his plans to fight again.
Thankfully for Konishi that test turned out to be a false positive and in December Takayama took on Konishi, who was a 2-time world title challenger and still very highly ranked by the world title bodies. Amazingly Takayama returned in style, easily out pointing Konishi.
Takayama had started the year seeing his Olympic dreams over, and yet he managed to end the year on the verge of a world title fight at the age of 37.
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.
In 2018 we saw a lot of fighters end lengthy breaks from the ring, and show they still had more to give us. We had fighters like Kazuto Ioka return from retirement to fight for a world title at the end of the year, Shohei Omori return from a broken jaw to put himself back in the world title mix and Akira Yaegashi go from being stopped in a round by Milan Melindo to score a win in a FOTY contender against Hirofumi Mukai.
For us however the Comeback of the Year was Nonito Donaire, who looked who looked old and tired when he lost to Carl Frampton back in April, but a move down in weight and having a chance in the World Boxing Super Series saw him upset Ryan Burnett in November to become the WBA Bantamweight "Super" champion.
Whilst he was helped by Burnett suffering a bad injury it was still an ultra competitive bout before the injury and it looked like Donaire had gone from a washed up 35 year old, who couldn't pull the trigger, to being a top Bantamweight once again, returning to a division he hadn't fought at in over 7 years!
We'll see what Donaire has left in the tank in 2019, with a bout against Zolani Tete in a WBSS Semi-Final bout, and a if he manages to upset the South African it's going to be very hard to write him off in the final.
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