Lets be honest, 2021 has been a year to forget. It has been a year where little of note has happened with Asian boxing due to the covid Pandemic, and although there were some green shoots, the bouts we all wanted to see simply didn't happen. Instead the major Asian countries seemed to either shut down the sport for long stretches of the year, or shut the rest of the world out, making for some long, dull, stretches.
Despite that there was still plenty that did happen, just unfortunately it was very stretches out, and the highlights were few and far between. Thankfully though we do still get to talk about those highlights and with that in mind lets start our 2021 Awards off with our Fight of the Year.
For this we need to go all the way back to January 22nd, for what was an amazing Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout between Yusaku Kuga and Gakuya Furuhashi.
Going in to the bout Kuga was the defending champion and was seeking his second defense of the title he won in May 2019, with his second win over Ryoichi Tamura. We all knew going in that he was the favourite, he had the edge in power, he was younger and he despite losing via a brutal KO to Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019, he had had over a year to recover. Furuhashi on the other hand was fighting in his third title fight, ans knew it was now or never for him and his career. He was a well liked and well supported fighter, but he had come up short in two other Japanese title fights and he didn't seem like he had the fire power to live with Kuga.
Whilst we all expected something exciting when these two got in the ring, nothing could have prepared us for the sensational war we ended up getting. It was toe to toe action through large portions of the bout, with both men taking lumps out of each other. Kuga showed the better boxing skills, and the heavy hands, taking an early lead, but sometimes it's the fight in the dog that matter, and Furuhashi was simply not going to be denied. Not this time. He ended up fighting through the hell fire thrown his wat and in round 9 he finally broke down an exhausted Kuga, who had ran out of steam against a man who was obsessed with victory.
From round 1 to the start of round 9 this was brutal, it was thrilling, it was all action, and now, as we head in to 2022, we can look forward to more of this, as the two men will rematch on January 25th.
It’s fair to describe the boxing calendar for 2020 as being rather unique, with a nice smattering of good fights early in the year before a lengthy break during the Spring and even Summer in some places, before returning with a lot of action late on. Due to the weird year that we had, with a lot of great fights late in the year, it can be easy to forget just how incredible some of the bouts from the first few months of the year were.
With that in mind we suspect many of the shortlists for The 2020 Fight of the Year have forgotten some of the early action, and remembered the stuff from the end of the year much better.
Internationally that’s actually less of a problem, as in terms of global boxing the Jose Zepeda Vs Ivan Baranchyk fight was the clear winner.
For us however it was a bit more of an issue, as to be eligible for our award a bout needs to either be held in Asia or feature an Asian fighter. With that in mind we go all the way back to January 2020 for our Fight of the Year, which was the sensational Super Bantamweight battle between Murodjon Akhmadaliev and Daniel Roman.
Entering the bout Akhmadaliev was 7-0 (6) and taking on a massive step up in class to take the then unified WBA and IBF champion, with Roman sporting an excellent 27-2-1 (10) record, and notching recent wins against TJ Doheny, Gavin McDonnell, Moises Flores, Ryo Matsumoto and Shun Kubo.
Going into the bout most regarded Roman as the best in the division, and the 29 year old had been mightily impressive. Akhmadaliev, although the betting favourite, had done little of real note in professional boxing, though had been an excellent amateur.
Together they made for 12 rounds of hotly contested action, both giving their all in a nip and tuck affair that saw both men landing clean solid shots throughout. The fight was truly tremendous and deserves rewatching for those that missed it. A truly brilliant 12 round bout that had high level action, and fantastic skills through out.
Others considered for this award:
Kazuto Ioka Vs Kosei Tanaka
Masayoshi Nakatani Vs Felix Verdejo
Wanheng Menayothin Vs Panya Pradabsri
Erzhan Turgumbekov Vs Albert Batyrgaziev
Han Bin Suh Vs Dong Myung Shin
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.
One of the best things in Asian boxing right now is the development of streaming service Boxingraise, which have given fighters a bigger window to show their talent to a wider audience. In the past if a fight wasn't televised we had to hope that fan cam footage would be released, whilst we now have Boxingraise to show fights.
Sadly Boxingraise does keep many of it's fights behind a paywall, including the 2018 Asian Boxing female fight of the Year.
The bout in question was the third meeting between Saemi Hanagata and Yuko Kuroki, which was a bout for the IBF Atomweight title. It was an exceptional 10 round, high tempo and exciting war, with Hanagata narrowly out working and out punching the more technical Kuroki, who was hurt badly before fighting back. It was an amazingly competitive bout, and although it was fought at a lower skill level to Sho Kimura's FOTY with Kosei Tanaka it had a similar back and forth, with neither managing to establish themselves as the dominant fighter for long.
If you have boxingraise we suggest you give this one a watch.
A close contender in this category was the December 1st bout between Kayoko Ebata and Etsuko Tada for the WBO Female Minimumweight title. That bout is also available on boxingraise.
With 2018 now, finally, over we'll be going through our end of year awards, starting with the 2018 Fight of the Year.
This was an easy one, it was the WBO Flyweight title bout between Sho Kimura [木村翔] and Kosei Tanaka [田中恒成]. This fantastic fight, which took place on September 24th and was a pretty rare Japan Vs Japan world title fight. The thing about all-Japanese world title fights is that they typically deliver amazing action, and that's what we got.
The teak tough Kimura, seeking his third defense, relied on his toughness and energy to try to combat the skill and speed advantages of Tanaka, who was looking to become a 3 weight world champion in just his 12th bout. What both men had in common was an intense desire to win and that gave us something amazing to watch, with neither man happy to even give up a round.
This wasn't a brawl, but was a high intensity fight, fought a lot of skill, heart and technique. It was a fight that started fast and got better round by round. It was a fight that never once felt like it was dragging, and instead it was a fight that ticked every box a fight fan could want.
If you missed it, or want to rewatch it, we've included the full fight video below. Enjoy yourself and kick off the new year with an outstanding fight!
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