It's fair to say that 2021 has been a year where under-dogs picked up wins and where great performances seemed to come much against the grain. We all remember Mauricio Lara battering Josh Warrington, Oleksandr Usyk out boxing, and almost stopping, Anthony Joshua, and Kiko Martinez blasting the form book, and Kid Galahad, in some of the many shocks of 2021.
Sadly with so little Asian action taking place through the year, it's been harder to think of great performances from Asian fighters, though there was a few notable ones, including Masataka Taniguchi at the end of the year.
For us however one man did stand out for particular credit here, and that was Kenichi Ogawa who put in the performance of his career to out box, out punch, out bang and out skill the incredibly tricky Azinga Fuzile.
Going in to the bout we thought Fuzile would have the tools to make Ogawa look silly. We thought Fuzile had all the advantages, the speed, the youth, the slippery style, and was going to be able to take the aggression of Ogawa and make the Japanese fighter look crude and clumsy. Instead we saw Ogawa put in a near punch perfect display to drop Fuzile several times en route to a wide and clear decision.
This was the performance that Ogawa's career needed, especially in his second bout in the US. He neutralised the slick movement of Fuzile, he didn't give the South African chances to counter, instead he found a home for his right hand, he was patient, he was relaxed, calm and near punch perfect through much of the bout. This was a stark difference to the man who had fought Tevin Farmer the last time he had fought in the US, and was also massively difference to the man who had been stopped 13 months earlier by Kazuhiro Nishitani, or had been involved in a head clash marred technical draw with Joe Noynay.
On the subject of Joe Noynay he also deserves an honourable mention here for his excellent performance in July against Liam Wilson. A performance that saw him dropping the much fancied Wilson numerous times in away in Australia. Sadly for this bout we were some what expecting a big performance from Noynay who delivered, whilst we weren't expecting what we got from Ogawa.
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.
In 2018 we have seen some amazing performances by Asian fighters. We saw Naoya Inoue in 2 fantastic, albeit short, performances against Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano, Vic Saludar put in a great performance to take the WBO Minimumweight title from Ryuya Yamanaka, Shakhram Giyasov stopping the tough Albert Mensah, Masayuki Ito shining on his US debut against Christopher Diaz and Manny Pacquiao rolling back the clock to stop Lucas Mathysse.
For us the best performance however was by Kenshiro [拳四朗], who looked amazing when he took apart Milan Melindo in a virtuoso performance.
Melindo, although not a pound for pound elite level fighter, was a bonafide world class fighter yet was made to look third rate by Kenshiro. The Japanese fighter had the perfect gameplan and executed it to perfection to inflict Melindo's first stoppage loss. A stoppage loss that came as a result on consistent, sharp punches from the WBC Light Flyweight champion. Despite only being 30 years old Melindo was made to look like a shot fighter, not a fighter who had beaten Hekkie Budler just 13 months earlier, or stopped Akira Yaegashi inside a round just 3 fights earlier.
What makes the performance from Kenshiro so outstanding was the way he completely shut down and in a way toyed with a world class fighter round after round. This wasn't a steam roller job over someone who wasn't given a chance to respond and was instead a prolonged exhibition in boxing behind a jab and moving around the ring. A real showcase of boxing skill.
Melindo hasn't fought since his loss, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him return at a much lower level in the future as he rebuilds his confidence, whilst Kenshiro went on to score another notable win in December, beating Saul Juarez.
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