It's fair to say that not many fighters shined in 2021. The various issues of Covid, lockdowns and countries shutting their borders has cost us more fights than we care to even think about. Thankfully we did still get plenty of action and when we look through the wreck of the year, there is still some positives we can take from 2021, and with that in mind we're going to take a look at our Fighter of the Year.
Sadly many of the top names in Asian boxing had a year to forget. We either saw them out of the ring for the full year, such as Gennady Golovkin and Ryota Murata, or we saw them having just a single bout of real note, if that, such as Masataka Taniguchi. We had others have a big performance before something cost them a late year fighter, we're looking at you John Riel Casimero.
Thankfully however there was one man who showed what he could do with 2 wins this year, both against unbeaten men and both at world level. That was Nonito Donaire, who returned to the ring after 18 months out of action to stop Nordine Oubaali in May, becoming the oldest man to win a world Bantamweight title in the process. He didn't just beat Oubaali however, but he dropped him numerous times, and ripped the WBC title from the unbeaten French-Moroccan. This was a win that showed his performance against Naoya Inoue in late 2019 wasn't a fluke, but a legitimate sign that Donaire was a top Bantamweight.
After that win the talk was of unification bouts for the Filipino Flash, but sadly he ended up needing to face the then 24-0 Reymart Gaballo in a mandatory. A decent match up, and much better than any other Asian fighter's "lesser" bout for the year, and one that saw Donaire stop Gaballo in 4 rounder to retain the title.
It's hard to know how much longer Donaire has at the top, but wins against a 17-0 world champion and a 24-0 "interim" champion aren't a bad way to spend the year as he heads towards his 40th birthday. Fingers crossed 2022 will see him take on Johnriel Casimero or Naoya Inoue, but if not we dare say Donaire, of all fighters, has the right to pick and choose how he spends his last years in the sport. He has certainly etched his name into the Boxing Hall of Fame when he retires, and were it not for Manny Pacquiao, we'd be talking about Donaire as the generational Filipino talent.
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.
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.
The hardest category for this year's awards was the Fighter of the Year, with so many fantastic possibilities. There was Naoya Inoue, who destroyed Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in just over 3 minutes; there was Donnie Nietes, who beat Juan Carlos Reveco and Kazuto Ioka and had a draw with Aston Palicte; there was Wanheng Menayothin, who scored 2 title defenses whilst moving to 52-0; Knockout CP Freshmart, who made 3 defenses of the WBA Minimumweight title and Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who went from debutant to WBA #1 in less than a year!
After going through all the possible winners, we're delighted to crown Kenshiro [拳四朗] as the 2018 Asian Boxing Fighter of the Year. He recorded 3 defenses of the WBC Light Flyweight crown, stopped 2 former champions and dominated his third challenger, whilst establishing himself as one of the sports most well rounded "little" men.
He began the year by rematch Ganigan Lopez, the man he had narrowly beaten for the title in 2017. This time there was no questions as to who the better man was, as Kenshiro stopped Lopez in the in the second round. This was only the second time Lopez had been stopped, with the other one coming way back in 2012 by the dynamite fisted Denver Cuello. He followed that win up by putting on a sensational performance to stop Milan Melindo in 7 rounds, becoming the first fighter to stop the Filipino who had only beaten Hekkie Budler a year earlier and gave Ryoichi Taguchi problems in a unification bout the previous December.
Following those two fantastic wins Kenshiro scored a stay busy defense on December 30th against Saul Juarez, taking a near shut out over the Mexican challenger.
Through his 3 bouts he lost just 2 rounds from a possible 21, he stopped two very durable world class fighters, showed just how much he has improved since winning the title from Lopez in May 2017 and put down a marker to the rest of the Light Flyweight division.
Whilst Hiroto Kyoguchi is the Ring Magazine champion, it's fair to say that Kenshiro is the top dog in the division, and his recent performances have really shown why. They have also shown why he is our Fighter of the Year.
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