By Marcus Bellinger-
This past weekend was a busy one involving Asian fighters with world title fights of significance as well as domestic bouts in Japan.
The most notable action came on Sunday from Kokugikan, Tokyo as Teiken Promotions presented a solid triple header that was headlined by the rematch between Ryota Murata and Hassan N’Dam. Murata was on the wrong end of one of the most appalling decisions seen in recent times in their first encounter in May with 2 judges somehow giving it to the French based Cameroonian.
Murata immediately was on the front foot, applying pressure to N’Dam who was letting go with flurries. After the first couple of rounds Murata began to take over and N’Dam was burning up unnecessary energy. The constant body attack on N’Dam was paying dividends and Murata dished out an absolute hammering in rounds 5, 6 and 7 before N’Dam was wisely pulled out by his corner at the end of the 7th.
For Murata this will put to bed the wrong that took place in May and he can move on to big things in 2018 and with Teiken and Top Rank behind him the sky is the limit. The 31-year-old is a mega star in Japan with many of the main sports pages featuring the fight as their lead story. The bout drew a whopping average audience of around 13.7 million which to put it in prospective are the best numbers for boxing on Fuji TV since 2000. The plan is for Murata to defend his belt in Japan next spring before a possible fight in the US next summer.
On the same card Daigo Higa made the first defense of his WBC flyweight crown against Frenchman Thomas Masson. Given the chasm between European and world level in the lower weights this was expected to be routine for Higa and that’s exactly what it was with the hard hitting champion prevailing via 7th round stoppage. Masson proved to be pretty durable but was unable to keep Higa at bay and after taking a knee was stopped soon afterwards due to an eye injury.
In the post-fight interview Higa called out fellow 112 lb titlist Kazuto Ioka for a unification on New Year’s Eve and the Osakan seems the only man with the traits to compete with the 22-year-old however, with recent rumours of Ioka retiring due to a dispute with his father this looks holy unrealistic. A homecoming defense in Okinawa is the aim for January or February 2018 with no opponent confirmed although Muhammad Waseem and Andrew Selby have been linked to Higa in recent times.
The third title clash saw Ken Shiro defend his WBC light flyweight strap against Pedro Guevara. Shiro was facing his second Mexican opponent on the trot after narrowly defeating Ganigan Lopez in May for the belt. After being behind Shiro rallied to claim a majority decision and the 25-year-old has proved his mettle in 2017 having come through 2 hard-fought contests. Unfortunately the Guevara fight wasn’t shown on Fuji TV and hopefully Shiro receives some live broadcast time in 2018 and a rematch with Ganigan Lopez is next up for the BMB Gym fighter.
Approximately 12 hours earlier bantamweights Ryan Burnett and Zhanat Zhakiyanov squared off in the first ever unification clash to be staged in Ireland. The first half of this contest was honestly quite a difficult watch with a whole lot of holding clinching and grappling resulting in a very messy contest. Zhakiyanov never stopped coming forward and putting on the pressure but as the Kazak slowed down Burnett’s extra class showed down the stretch. The Belfast man was a worthy winner but the scorecards of 119-109 and 118-110 were far too wide and yet another further demonstration of how hard it has become for a visiting boxer to win a point's verdict in the UK.
Burnett showed a real versatility and adaptability in being able to beat Zhakiyanov at his own game and this will stand him in good stead for the future. The 118 lb division was thrown in to chaos when Luis Nery failed a drugs test soon after his KO win over the long reigning Shinsuke Yamanaka in August and a decision is still to be made by the WBC. Incidentally Nery takes on Arthur Villanueva in a non-title affair in Tiajuana on 4 November. The other legitimate belt holder is South Africa’s Zolani Tete but whether the egos of promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn can be put aside to make the bout between Tete and Burnett will have to be seen to be believed.
A few hours earlier at the Korakuen Hall the vacant Japanese lightweight title was contested between Shuichiro Yoshino and Spicy Matsushita. Yoshino was expected to overcome his veteran opponent and he duly did, scoring a 7th round knockout and claiming his first title in the process. Yoshino moved to 6-0 4 KOs and whilst it’s very premature to be talking about world title fights for the 26-year-old it will be interesting to see how he progresses with his first defense scheduled for February 2018. There were a number of Japanese title eliminators on the undercard including at flyweight where Katsunori Nagamine faced Akinori Hoshino. Despite a 7th round loss at the hands of Ken Shiro Nagamine has been in some thrillers in recent times and has become a bit of a favourite of mine. Unfortunately the bout with Hoshino never got going and at the end of 8 rounds it was a split draw with cards of 78-75 Nagamine, 77-75 Hoshino and a level 76-76. Nagamine progressed under the dominant point rule and will meet the winner of the November clash between Masayuki Kuroda and Mako Matsuyama sometime next year in what should be a far more exciting dustup.
Finally on the previous day still at the Korakuen Hall there was a Japan versus China show with Rikki Naito versus Baishanbo Nasiyiwula topping the bill. In what was a highly competitive bout Naito won a very close decision with scores of 77-75 76-75 and 75-79 and a rematch would be welcomed. This seems like a good initiative and could help the Chinese boxing scene which is still desperately searching for a genuine talent to take the sport forward.
Over the last few years we've seen a number of young fighters making a mark on the sport with many moving between “prospect” and “champion” at an alarming rate. The speed with which fighters like Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka have become world champions have seen the term “prospect” change slightly. Despite that there are still plenty of fighters who are still prospects, and here we take a look at our 2016 Prospect of the Year.
For us the decision to pick a particular prospect was very tough. On paper the man who accomplished the most, whilst remaining a “prospect” was Takuma Inoue (6-0, 1). Inoue, the younger brother of Naoya, fought twice claiming and defending the OPBF Super Flyweight title. The 20 year old claimed the OPBF title in his first bout of the year, taking a clear decision over Mark Anthony Geraldo in July, and defended it against Rene Dacquel in December.
On paper those two wins were excellent, even if the youngster himself wasn't happy with either performance. Both saw him show flaws, drop off in the middle of fights and, in both, he was the clear betting favourite.
Despite feeling that Takuma the most of any prospect this year, he's not actually our prospect of the year. That honour instead belongs to Daigo Higa (8-0, 8), pictured with Kenya Yamashita who didn't at the same level of Inoue but did show a more sizeable improvement in his performances and “proved” himself more compared to what he had done in the past.
was a skilled fighter, wins over Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Daniel Nestor Narvaez in 2014 proved that he was special. Higa however had fought just 4 rounds prior to the start of 2015 and yet ended up proving his ability to fight 10 high paced rounds.
We suspect it'll be a controversial choice but for us Higa has outshined the likes of Iwan Zoda (8-1, 7), Ken Shiro (6-0, 3), Mark Magsayo (12-0, 10), Riku Kano (8-1-1, 4) and Hinata Maruta (1-0), who in our eyes claimed the most impressive single win of any prospect in consideration for this honour.
(Image thanks to Kenya Yamashita)
It's been a few bad weeks for Thai boxing with several fighters suffering unexpected stoppage losses. There was another of those today with Indonesian youngster Iwan Zoda (7-1, 6) claiming the biggest win of his career, and picking up a WBO Pan-Pacific title with a stoppage win over Petchchorhae Kokietgym (13-1, 8). The question now needs to be asked, is Thai boxing going through a crisis, or is it just a coincidence that two previously unbeaten fighters, a highly ranked world contender and fringe contender were all beaten in the space of just a few weeks.
In the past we have bemoaned the quality of match making in Thailand. The country airs cards pretty much weekly but all too often the shows are predictable mismatches that resemble boxing's equivalent to "squash matches" found in professional wrestling. The recent run may well be a wake up call to those in Thai boxing, who have padded the records of many fighters over the years rather than really getting them to develop the skills. It may also serve as a wake up call to visitors who will have seen these results and be encouraged to fight to win rather than go into "journeyman mentality".
The best thing it could do for Thai boxing is force the match makers to change their attitude to the sport. These may be hits to their contenders and prospects but it'll serve them well and show what they need to work on in the future. Hopefully it will also lead to better match ups for their genuine contenders, such as Suriyan Sor Rungvisai who has been force fed a steady stream of weak opposition since losing to Shinsuke Yamanaka last year. Guys like Suriyan would develop much better from Nakornloung bringing in solid fighters and hopefully that will happen in the future.
The current run is unlikely to continue much longer but we've got to admit that we've enjoyed seeing fighters travel and fight to win and hopefully that will continue, win or lose. Boxing needs fighters coming to fight not just coming to make up the numbers, as fighters like Domi Nenokeba, Samuel Tehuayo, Boido Simanjuntak and Johan Wahyudi have done in recent years. Bouts with those guys have served little purpose to the men other than to notch up an easy win against an opponent unwilling to give a fight to the home guy.
All videos courtesy of the brilliant tko.in.th
*Pigmy was #5 ranked by the IBF who had the #1 and #2 spots vacant
**We did consider including Espinos Sabu's draw against Inthanon Sithchamuang on August 11th, despite the fact Sabu only got a draw. The reality however is that Sabu is another fighter who comes to win and gets our utmost respect for his attempts in the ring.
Boxing might be the sweet science but, if we're all being honest, it's also a fight. Due to it being a fight we of course love the true fighters, the ones who come to the ring with the intention of stopping their opponents and are willing to do all they can to finish a fight early. In this feature we're going to take a look at 10 of the most fun to watch Asian fighters. Some fighters you will be familiar with whilst others you may not be too aware of, one thing is for certain however, these men mean business every time they step in the ring.
-Wanheng Menayothing-Intelligent pressure fighter, even though he lacks lights out power he is great fun to watch
-Akira Yaegashi-A real warrior who is coming to the end of his career though will always go out on his shield and give fans good value.
-Takuya Kogawa-A warrior through and through. Though he lacks power he does enjoy a tear up and is scarcely in a dull fight
-Suguru Muranaka-Another warrior who enjoys a tear up and is more than happy to let his hands go despite not being a note puncher.
-Knockout CP Freshmart-With a name like “Knockout” you already know he's looking for the stoppage every time.
-Rex Tso-Like many featured above this man from Hong Kong is flawed but that's what makes him so much fun with every fight being a war
-Kyoo Hwan Hwang-Korean teenage has got ability though often lets his "Korean instinct" kick in and turns every fight so far into a slugfest
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features