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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