By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
Last week the Asia/Oceania Olympic qualifier concluded in Amman, Jordan with 63 boxers booking their place in Tokyo. Here are some observations from the tournament as a whole and a few trends that were noticeable.
First of all the standard was exceedingly high and this was in no way diminished by the inclusion of boxers from the Oceania region and actually, those who qualified from Australia and New Zealand enhanced their reputations having beaten quality opposition and those who didn’t including those from the Pacific Islands would have learned a hell of a lot going up against high calibre fighters. Were there mismatches? Sure but even in tournaments such as these that is an inevitability but some excellent boxers failed to make it through showing the strength and depth in the region is pretty sizable.
The Olympic Channel deserves praise for providing a good working stream, excellent features, news, overall coverage and full replays of every session which were invaluable. The quality of judging was generally pretty solid with some strange scoring of individual rounds but no out and out stinkers and the availability of the scores after each round provided transparency and also forced fighters to adapt their game plans when necessary.
Whilst it’s too late for this particular cycle I’ve begrudgingly come to the conclusion that the head guards must return for the men purely to prevent cuts which were a factor in Amman with some bouts halted early and a few fighters unable to compete in their next contest. Sickness and injuries are one thing but a boxer unable to compete for a medal or in a final because of a cut seems preventable and something the authorities should consider after Tokyo.
In terms of most successful Asian nations at the competition, India and Kazakhstan achieved 9 quota places, Uzbekistan with 7, China with 6, Jordan 5, Thailand and Chinese Taipei 4, Japan 3, Iran, South Korea, Philippines, Tajikistan 2, and Mongolia and Vietnam 1 quota place.
India should be absolutely delighted with their 9 guaranteed quota places which is the most they have ever had for any boxing squad for an Olympics. Realistically the country’s best chance for a gold may lie with Vikas Krishan who performed excellently and was denied a chance at winning the final by a cut. The welterweight division has lots of good fighters but no stand out elite one so Krishan has a good a chance as anyone.
Simranjit Kaur was without doubt the most fan friendly and watchable women’s boxer in Amman and will be right in the mix for a medal in a competitive lightweight division worldwide. Flyweight Amit Panghal had some tough fights and didn’t look quite at his best but has built up enough experience over the last couple of years and Lovlina Borgohain and Mary Kom are proven performers on the world stage. Even with a loss Gaurav Solanki gave the winner of the featherweight division and current world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov a tough outing and deserves to go to the world qualifier whenever that takes place.
The Kazak men’s team showed all their experience with all 8 male spots being filled. Vassiliy Levit proved his class defeating the excellent David Nyika in the final and he’ll be aiming to right the wrong of 4 years ago where he was robbed of an Olympic gold in as abhorrent a decision as you will ever see. Middleweight Abilkhan Amankul is among the best in his weight class and Bekzad Nurdauletov backed up his world championship victory by winning the light heavyweight bracket. Zakir Safiullin and Kanshybek Kunkabayev are vastly experienced and Serik Temirzhanov acquitted himself extremely well in his first major assignment. Saken Bibossinov is an outside bet for a medal at flyweight whilst Ablaikhan Zhussupov possesses plenty of skills but might just fall a bit short at welterweight.
Uzbekistan had somewhat of a dream team 4 years ago and whilst the country is still strong a repeat of their performance in Rio is probably not going to occur. Super heavyweight Bakhodir Jalolov barely got out of first gear in Amman but should go into the Olympics as at least the warm favourite to top the podium. Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov can look a little crude at times but his phenomenal fitness and engine make him a difficult man to contain over 9 minutes and no one has managed it so far so he is rightly the favourite at featherweight. Light heavyweight Dilshod Ruzmetov losing in his first fight was a big upset and middleweight Fanat Kakhramonov also has work to do to qualify. As for Sanjar Tursunov, Elnur Abduraimov and Bobo-Usmon Baturov, medals are a possibility but all 3 will be up against it.
China and Chinese Taipei had a bit of a stranglehold of the women’s categories and both nations will expect medals in Tokyo. Featherweight Lin Yu-Ting from Chinese Taipei was the best all round female boxer on display in Jordan. Not only was she fantastic at long range but she could dig in hurtful body shots up close and there was a real snap and authority on her work. China’s Li Qian prevailed at middleweight and will be right in the mix. China’s Chang Yuan will have gained much confidence from winning at flyweight and also defeating Mary Kom and the welterweight pairing of Chen Nien-Chin and Gu Homg contested the final and have form going in with China’s Gu winning by the way.
Local support almost always give home athletes a real boost and that was certainly the case with the Jordanian boxers with the Iashaish brothers playing starring rolls. Featherweight Mohamm Abdelaziz Mohammad Alwadi reaching the final was a terrific result and to qualify for the Olympics at 34 years of age is a remarkable achievement. It was an up and down few days for Thailand who sent a squad of youth and experience but Thitisan Panmod really was the shining light. The 19-year-old fought brilliantly to defeat Shakhobidin Zoirov and the final was an unfortunate finale. Chatchai Butdee pulled out a performance when required and Atichai Phoemsap is young enough to come again.
It was a tough competition for Japan’s men with Sewon Okazawa the only male to qualify and actually their best chance of medals are with the women. Tsukimi Namiki is an excellent all round talent and was unlucky not to win her flyweight final and Sena Irie avenged her loss to Nesthy Petecio and has a chance of a medal at featherweight. The Philippines would have been hoping for more than 2 boxers qualifying but Eumir Marcial is a top contender at middleweight and prevailed in a superb bout with Abilkhan Amankul in the final. Irish Magno powered her way to qualification in a box off and Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio are good enough to come through the world qualifier if it goes ahead.
The 3 hidden gems to emerge from the tournament were Iran’s Daniyal Shahbakhsh, Australia’s Paolo Aokuso and Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Duong. Shahbakhsh is a real sharp shooter with spite in his punches and easily overcame Rex Tso in a box off and at just 19 there is a bright future for him. Aokuso caused the first notable upset dumping out world silver medallist Dilshod Ruzmetov and his hand and foot speed make him an intriguing prospect. Nguyen proved to be a real puncher and his 1 round demolition job on Chatchai Butdee was a real shocker.
Finally the fight of the tournament was undoubtedly the men’s (63kg) final between Zakir Safiullin and Elnur Abduraimov which was an absolute war and is definitely worth checking out.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
The 2019 Asian Youth Championships took place in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, with 10 male and 10 female gold medalists being crowned. 11 nations came away with a medal and the standings were as follows:
Kazakhstan claimed an extraordinary 15 medals with Uzbekistan just behind them with 14, India with 12, Thailand, Mongolia and China 8, Japan and South Korea with 4, Taiwan and Kyrgyzstan 3 and Iraq with a single medal
Kazakhstan had a Championships to remember with their men winning 6 golds and bantamweight Biybars Zheksen was named male boxer of the tournament. At flyweight in arguably the fight of the tournament, Makhmud Sabyrkhan prevailed over Thailand’s Sukthet Sarawut in a clash of Asian Youth champions. Make no mistake both these young men have a bright future ahead of them. Sagyndyk Togambay added his 2nd Asian Youth crown, proving far too strong for everyone in the heavyweight category whilst fellow Kazak Amanat Sabyrgali was victorious at super heavyweight.
Amateur boxing is full of sets of siblings/twins at the moment but it’s hard to rival the Tsutsumi brothers who have garnered much success over the last few years. Hayato won world Youth honours in 2015, 2 Asian Youth titles and the senior Japanese crown and fitness providing he should appear in Tokyo and is without doubt a future superstar. Ryonosuke is an Asian Youth Bronze medallist and reached the last 8 at last year’s World Youths however, Mongolia was all about Reito who was aiming to replicate his gold from the 2017 Asian Junior Championships. Replicate he did as the 17-year-old stormed to top the podium at lightweight. In the weight above, Reito Takahashi came away with an excellent Bronze and 2019 has been a terrific year for the 18-year-old after defeating Asian Junior champion Sora Tanaka twice to earn his spot in Ulaanbaatar.
The light flyweight division has proved a fruitful one for India in recent times and Selay Soy continued the tradition, picking up a silver medal and the 18-year-old will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of Amit Panghal. Ankit Narwal also won silver at lightweight and there were really good bronze medals for Satender Singh and Aman at heavyweight and super heavyweight respectively.
Uzbekistan’s 2 golds came from Sukhrobjon Kayimov and Shokhjakhon Abdullaev. Kayimov prevailed at middleweight whilst Abdulllaev became light heavyweight champion and upset touted Kazak Yerassyl Zhakpekov in the semi-finals.
Finally from the men’s bracket Nuradin Rustambek Uulu created history in becoming the first boxer from Kyrgyzstan to win an Asian Youth title as he claimed welterweight gold and hopefully this will be a real boost for boxing in the developing nation.
India continue to strengthen their case as the number one women’s boxing nation, collecting a phenomenal 5 gold and 3 bronze medals. Poonam and Vinka dominated the bantamweight and light welterweight divisions respectively, Naorem Babyrojisana Chanu was victorious at flyweight whilst Sanamacha Chanu and Sushma proved to be the best in the middleweight and light heavyweight categories. Coupled with the outstanding medal tally at the recently concluded Asian Junior Championships, the future for women’s boxing in India is incredibly bright.
The Thai professional scene maybe in somewhat of a slumber right now but the country has some genuine quality young talent in the amateur ranks and the females proved it, scalping 3 golds including welterweight Manikon Baison who also took home the prize of best women’s boxer. Panpatchara Somnuek backed up her Youth Olympic triumph by grabbing featherweight gold and she is one of the most exciting female boxers coming through and lightweight Porntip Buapa successfully defended her Asian Youth crown.
Hikaru Shinohara doesn’t turn 17 until next month but the Japanese youngster pulled off a stunning achievement to claim light flyweight gold in Mongolia. She defeated excellent opposition on the way including top Thai Nillada Meekoon and Shinahara is a top prospect for the land of the rising sun going forward.
Finally in the heavyweight division, Ko Yuan Chien made history, becoming the first boxer to win a gold at the Asian Youth Championships from Taiwan.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
In a saga that has had more twists and turns than a race track, things have finally come to a head and AIBA has been suspended by the IOC and will play no part in organising the boxing at the Tokyo Olympics or the qualifying tournaments. Anyone who has followed this story won’t be at all surprised at the verdict and given verbal jabs from the IOC such as President Thomas Bach’s recent comment that organising a boxing tournament is “not rocket science” this outcome was inevitable.
Whilst we now know there will be a boxing competition in 2020 there are still many unanswered questions such as the weight categories which leaves boxers with even longer uncertainty. The Olympic qualifiers are due to take place between January and May 2020 with quotas for men and women to be outlined.
Heading the special taskforce appointed by the IOC to organise the boxing for next year’s games is International Gymnastics Federation President Morinari Watanabe and it remains to be seen if a non-boxing person is able to put in place the necessary requirements to run the boxing in Tokyo as well as the qualifiers. There were hints of professional boxing organisations being contacted to help organise the sport at next year’s games but who that might be we simply don’t know.
As for AIBA, they are free to launch an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and interim President Mohamed Moustahsane, who took over from Gafur Rakhimov who stepped aside in March, had begun to outline plans to sue the IOC if indeed AIBA lost its right to run the boxing in Tokyo but at time of writing this hasn’t gone any further. AIBA is also able to arrange continental tournaments which of course will not act as Olympic qualifiers.
It also raises the question of possible compensation for Russia and India, who were awarded the next 2 men’s world championships and surely both countries would have made provisions financially and strategically. Also will there be a boycott from certain federations out of loyalty to Rakhimov?
Whilst financial, governance, judging and refereeing concerns from the IOC have played a part in this decision it’s still utterly perplexing that federations voted for Rakhimov given his inability to enter the US due to being on a US Treasury Department sanctions list. Not being able to work with companies and officials in America was stated as one of the main contributing factors for the decision and whilst a different President may not have made the difference, it surely would have helped AIBA not be in the situation that they are now.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
In the last part of this mini-series we take a look at 5 more notable amateurs from the Asian continent who have achieved success for their respective nations.
Erdenbaat Tsendbaatar, Mongolia, bantamweight (56kg).
For a country with a population of around just 3 million, Mongolia regularly more than holds its own at major tournaments and produces excellent fighters who fight with pride, skill and determination. The country’s young boxing star is undoubtedly Tsendbaatar who enjoyed a golden 2018, triumphing at the Asian Games in Indonesia. Now campaigning at lightweight, Tsendbaatar reached the last 8 of the Rio Olympics, going out to eventual silver medallist Shakur Stevenson down at bantamweight.
The 21-year-old has ruled the roost at home, claiming 4 national titles and also a Bronze at the 2014 Asian Youth Championships. Tsendbaatar will be one of the favourites for the upcoming Asian Championships in Thailand and if boxing does take place at the Tokyo Olympics then he’s more than in the frame for a medal. You can view Tsendbaatar’s winning effort at the 2018 Asian Games below.
Chinzorig Battarsukh, Mongolia, light welterweight (64kg).
Battarsukh possesses copious amounts of experience but has been a bit of a nearly man and has lost a number of very close decisions. The 27-year-old is a 5-time national champion and after reaching the quarter-finals of the 2014 Asian Games, he managed to reach the podium 4 years later taking Silver.
Battarsukh grabbed silver at the 2017 Asian Championships in Tashkent but was highly unlucky to lose to home man Ikboljon Kholdarov in the final and later on that year he narrowly missed out on a world championship medal, losing in the last 8. Battarsukh is a tough out for anyone in his division apart from probably the formidable Cuban Andy Cruz and with a little bit of luck an Olympic medal isn’t out of the question. Battarsukh’s contest in the 2018 Asian Games final can be seen below
Carlo Paalam, Philippines, light flyweight (49kg).
Despite the limited resources at their disposal the Philippines isn’t lacking in talented pugilists with Paalam being one of a number of gifted Pinoys in the amateur ranks. A successful stint at youth level saw him take Bronze at both the Asian and world Championships in 2016. He was on the wrong end of an awful hometown decision in the quarter-finals at the 2017 South East Asian Games in Malaysia but bounced back to take Bronze at the 2018 Asian Games, losing to gold medallist Amit in the semi-final.
Paalam is still young therefore, there is plenty of room for growth and he is defitely capable of achieving success at future events. Some footage of Paalam sparring can be viewed below.
Christian Pitt Laurente, Philippines (56kg).
Laurente is yet to make his senior debut at a major tournament but the future looks bright for him judging by his performances at youth level. His first success came at the South East Asian Youth Games in 2017 as he took lightweight Bronze, being defeated by top operator Atichai Phoemsap. A move down to bantamweight saw him win silver followed by Bronze and the Asian and world Youth Championships respectively with elite Uzbek Abdumalik Khalokov victorious over him on both occasions. Laurente is clearly one for the future and you can watch him in action versus Khalokov
Kim Ink-Yu, South Korea, flyweight (52kg).
Korean boxing both sides of the border has been in the doldrums for well over a decade but there have been small signs of recovery especially in the amateur ranks in recent times. The most consistent performer has been South Korea’s Kim Ink-yu who came away from the 2017 world Championships with Bronze after winning silver at the Asian equivalent earlier on in the year. The world Bronze bettered his quarter-final appearance in the previous edition and he is capable of being in the mix for medals in future major competitions. Below is a bout involving Kim up against Uzbekistan’s Jasurbek Latipov.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
Japanese professional boxing is in a great place right now when some truly elite fighters and a plethora of outstanding youngsters racing through the ranks at a lightning pace. The country is hosting the 2020 Olympics but boxing’s place is yet to be confirmed due to a dispute between governing body AIBA and the IOC.
Japan has never been a traditional powerhouse in amateur boxing but has had plenty of success at the youth and junior levels. Here are a small selection of boxers from the land of the rising sun who could either feature in Tokyo, or more likely in the professional ranks in the years to come.
Hayato Tsutsumi, bantamweight, (56kg).
The next potential superstar from Japan, Tsutsumi ruled the roost at the youth level and has made a solid start in the elite level. He’s had plenty of success domestically winning various tournaments. 2016 was a banner year as Tsutsumi claimed flyweight golds at the Asian and World Youth Championships before repeating the success up at bantamweight at the 2017 Asian Youth Championships.
His move to the senior ranks saw him win the national title in 2017 and reach the last 4 in 2018 but elimination in the first contest of the 2018 Asian Games will have been a disappointment but should be seen as a valuable learning experience. If boxing doesn’t take place in Tokyo, expect promoters to be queueing round the block to sign up Tsutsumi. You can view the final of the 2017 national Championships involving Tsutsumi below.
(Ed's note - The fight below is against highly regarded Teiken prospect Mikito Nakano, now 2-0 (2) in the professional ranks)
Sora Tanaka, light welterweight, (64kg).
Blessed with an exciting style and punching power, Tanaka won gold at the Asian Junior Championships in 2017. After winning Bronze at the 2018 Asian Youth Championships, Tanaka didn’t fare as well at the world Youth’s, going out in his first bout. An excellent performer at home, the teenager is definitely one for the future whether that’s as an amateur or a professional. Tanaka’s bout from the 2018 World Youth Championships can be seen below
Ryutaro Nakagaki, flyweight, (52kg).
Nakagaki’s first success away from home came in 2015 when he topped the podium at the Asian Junior Championships. His best result to date saw him take Asian Youth gold in 2017 as he prevailed over top notch Uzbek Abdumalik Khalokov in the final. Nakagaki’s 2 outings at the Japanese nationals saw him reach the last 4 in 2017 and the last 8 in 2018 and there is plenty to build on for the gifted youngster. You can take a look at a bout from 2015 involving Nakagaki below.
Sho Usami, welterweight, (69kg).
2018 saw Usami reach the quarter-finals of the Asian Youth Championships before going one better at the World Youth Championships in Hungary, coming away with a credible Bronze medal. A shot at the national crown last year saw him lose in his opening bout but again he should only improve given the right coaching and appearances at international tournaments. You can watch Usami’s semi-final contest at the World Youth Championships below
Finally it’s not just Hayato who has the boxing bug in the family as younger brothers Ryonosuke and Reito Tsutsumi have shown plenty of promise. Ryonosuke reached the last 8 at the 2018 World Youth Championships after grabbing Bronze at the Asian Youth Championships, losing out on both occasions to the outstanding Atichai Phoemsap. Reito’s most notable triumph so far saw him earn lightweight gold at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships. Footage of both Tsutsumi’s in action can be viewed below.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
Currently professional boxing is in a pretty solid state in Thailand with 3 world champions and some decent contenders in the mix around world level. The amateur scene in the country could be on the verge of a really sustained period of success with the youth and junior programmes put in place in 2013 paying dividends. The nation has also hosted many significant events in the last couple of years and it will be the destination for the elite Asian men’s and women’s Championships this April.
Here are a selection of the best current Thai amateurs and some future stars who will be aiming to move up to the senior level in the upcoming years.
Chatchai Butdee, bantamweight (56kg)
A veteran of over a decades experience at the top level, Chatchai has been there, seen it and done it, competing at every major tournament and is probably the most well-known Thai amateur boxer. He was voted the top sportsman in his homeland in 2013 where he won South East Asian gold and a world championship bronze.
Further gold at the South East Asian Games in 2011 and silver in 2009 coupled with top spot at the Asian Championships in 2015 prove Chatchai’s quality and ability to compete with the best around. At 33 and with a very cagy awkward style, a transition to the professional ranks is unlikely but expect Chatchai to be a tough out for anyone at bantamweight in future competitions. Some footage of Chatchai in a bout versus Misha Aloian can be seen below:
Sailom Ardee, welterweight (69kg)
Another man with copious amounts of experience at the top level Sailom is a regular for Thailand at all the major tournaments and has had his fair share of success. His most recent medal came at the 2018 Asian Games where he took bronze.
The South East Asian Games has proved fruitful for Sailom with the 32-year-old claiming gold twice and 3 bronze medals. His other most notable achievement came in 2013 where he picked up silver at the Asian Championships. Given his age a run in professional boxing doesn’t seem likely but similar to Chatchai, expect Sailom to be in and around the medals in future events. You can view a contest between Sailom and Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez below:
Wuttichai Masuk, light welterweight (64kg)
Wuttichai is a highly decorated amateur winning a medal at every major event apart from the Olympics. 2015 was a great one for Wuttichai, with gold at the Asian Championships followed by a bronze at the world championships.
The 29-year-old has also captured gold at the 2009 Asian Championships, 3 golds and a bronze at the South East Asian Games and Asian Games gold and bronze twice along with a handful of bouts in the WSB. Presuming there is boxing at the Tokyo Olympics, Wuttichai is arguably Thailand’s best hope for a medal but a crack at the professional game could be a root to take if the AIBA IOC dispute can’t be resolved and he would be an interesting addition in the pro scene at home. Wuttichai’s bout in the final of the 2015 South East Asian Games can be viewed below:
Atichai Phoemsap, lightweight (60kg)
A young man with elite potential Atichai’s first breakthrough came at the 2017 South East Asian Youth Games where he topped the podium. The Korat born teenager then had what can only be described as a phenomenal 2018, winning Asian, world and Olympic Youth golds cementing his place as one of the hottest future talents in amateur boxing. At just 17 Atichai really does have the world at his feet but it’s unclear when the step up to senior level will come but the 2024 Olympics seems a very realistic aim. Atichai’s winning effort over home man Adrian Orban in the world Youth Championships final can be seen
Thitisan Panmod, light flyweight (49kg)
Not far behind teammate Atichai, Thitisan’s first success also came at the South East Asian Youth Games in 2017 where he claimed gold. After Bronze at the Asian Youth Championships in 2017 followed by silver in 2018, Thitisan finally went one better at the world Youth Championships in Hungary in the same year. Again the move up to the elite level should come in time with the teenage talent showing he has all the tools to succeed. You can watch Thitisan’s fight from the final of the 2018 world Youth Championships
Sukthet Sarawut, flyweight (52kg)
Finally, the last of a trio of top young Thai talent Sukthet won silver at the Asian Junior Championships back in 2017. After victory at home in the Asian Youth Championships, a medal at the world’s was more than a realistic aim but the teenager was drawn against top Uzbek Samandar Kholmurudov in the early stages. Having defeated him in the final of the Asian Championships Sukthet would have been confident but it was Kholmurudov who got the better of it on this occasion leaving the Thai empty handed. Sukthet did however go onto claim silver at the Youth Olympics in Argentina and the future looks bright for him if he continues to develop his skills and experience. You can take a look at a clash from the world Youth Championships involving Sukthet
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
2018 was another interesting year for Asian boxing with the usual ups and downs but it was one that saw the seeds planted for what can potentially be a golden era for the sport throughout the continent.
2018 was a disappointing 12 months for Japanese boxing at world level but with a core of elite pugilists and a plethora of outstanding youngsters on the rise, the future is still very bright for boxing in the land of the rising sun.
Long reigning WBC bantamweight boss Shinsuke Yamanaka quite frankly deserved so much better than to go out at the hands of the disgraceful Luis Nery who failed a drugs test after their first encounter then came in 5 pounds overweight on first attempt before their rematch. Yamanaka can hold his head up high and will go down as one of Japan’s best after a terrific career.
After losing his WBO strawweight belt to Vic Saludar, Ryuya Yamanaka was unfortunately forced to retire due to a serious head injury and stalwarts Kohei Kono and Yoshihiro Kamegai also hung up the gloves after exciting fan friendly careers. Katsunori Nagamine, who was always guaranteed to provide thrills and spills was also forced to retire due to injury which was such as shame as the flyweight became a favourite of mine.
Daigo Higa and Kenichi Ogawa will not want to be reminded of having the arduous distinction of being the only Japanese fighters to lose their world titles on the scales and for failing a drugs test respectively and both will hope for much better results in 2019. Ryota Murata has it all to prove after floundering against an inspired Rob Brant and Ryoichi Taguchi, Kazuto Ioka, Ryosuke Iwasa and Reiya Konishi will aim to return to world level after losing close decisions that could have easily gone the other way.
In what you could easily call the awesome foursome Naoya Inoue, Kenshiro, Kosei Tanaka and Hiroto Kyoguchi are as good a quartet of fighters anywhere on the planet and will be aiming to establish themselves as the number 1 in their respective divisions. Inoue blasted away both Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano inside a round and claiming the World Boxing Super Series prize is the goal for 2019. Kenshiro enjoyed a rather fruitful 2018, impressively halting both Ganigan Lopez and Milan Melindo before scoring a wide points victory over Saul Juarez to cap off the year and hopefully the WBC light flyweight champion can secure a unification in 2019.
Kosei Tanaka became a 3-weight world champion in just his 12th bout but had to go through the meat grinder to do it as he took the WBO flyweight strap from Sho Kimura in undoubtedly the fight of the year. A rumoured clash with Ryoichi Taguchi is in the works for this spring and if it’s half as good as the bout with Kimura then we’re in for another classic. Hiroto Kyoguchi made a real statement as he broke down Hekkie Budler and became the first man to stop the South African and his heavy hands make him a force to be reckoned with at 108 pounds.
Finally Masayuki Ito deserves more than a mention after winning a world title away from home, something very few Japanese boxers accomplish. Ito was far too seasoned for Christopher Diaz and after a one-sided beat down of mandatory challenger Evgeny Chuprakov, the WBO super featherweight champion has options aplenty for 2019. Tomoki Kameda and Takuma Inoue will get cracks at full world titles this year after winning interim trinkets in 2018.
Overall 2018 was an excellent year for Filipino boxing with 3 of the nation’s favourite sons scoring notable victories. Donnie Nietes prevailed in a close and thoroughly absorbing contest with Kazuto Ioka, making him a 4-weight champion and let’s hope he defends against similar calibre of competition as there is no shortage of top challengers at super flyweight.
After defeat to Carl Frampton and moving down to a division which he hadn’t fought at in 7 years, few if anyone gave Nonito Donaire a prayer when he entered the World Boxing Super Series but the Filipino Flash defied the odds to beat Ryan Burnett and set up a semi-final contest versus Zolani Tete. It should be noted that a freak back injury left Burnett unable to continue but Donaire was highly competitive in rounds 3 and 4 so a win against Tete isn’t out of the question.
Manny Pacquiao knocked out Lucas Matthysse to keep his career going and he has a very winnable bout with Adrien Broner coming up shortly but the biggest winner in Filipino boxing in 2018 was visibility, with not only ESPN5 providing much needed coverage for boxing globally but other streams were provided for domestic cards making the sport far more accessible than it has been in previous years. Vic Saludar produced an excellent display to capture the WBO strawweight title in Japan but IBF 115 lb champion Jerwin Ancajas failed to shine in 2018 and will need to up his game if he’s to compete and overcome the elite of the division.
The 2 all Filipino world title fights between Jerwin Ancajas and Jonas Sultan and Donnie Nietes and Aston Palicte unfortunately completely underwhelmed but if the myth that these kind of bouts shouldn’t be happening is slowly being dispelled then that’s a positive and we saw other such good clashes at domestic and regional level between Jonathan Taconing and Vince Paras and Edward Heno and Jesse Espinas take place.
The biggest negative was the disappearance of exciting featherweight Mark Magsayo who failed to fight at all in 2018 and Mark Antony Barriga will also have to rebound after his first loss. Jhack Tepora and Reymart Gaballo enjoyed breakout years and are leading the charge of the next generation of young Pinoys, Romero Duno should continue to provide plenty of entertainment and KJ Cataraja and Dave Apolinario are 2 gems worth getting excited about.
Boxing in Thailand ticked over quite nicely in 2018 with all 3 world champions holding onto their titles and the country has 2 interesting prospects in Apichet Petchmanee and Downua Ruawaiking both at light welterweight. The Workpoint series was also a nice edition and saw much improved match making and some solid domestic bouts that delivered including the 2 encounters between Kompayak Porpramook and Pongsaklek Sithdabmij and the clash between Nawaphon Por Chokchai and Amnat Ruenroeng.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai scored a majority decision over Juan Francisco Estrada in a thoroughly enjoyable contest in the US to kick off his 2018 and after a stay busy bout he made history as he headlined a One Championship card in front of a raucous home crowd. The WBC super flyweight champion scored a wide point’s win over game Mexican Iran Diaz and heads into 2019 with numerous available options with a unification with Jerwin Ancajas looking a distinct possibility.
Wanheng Menayothin made his own history as he took his unbeaten record to 52-0 by the end of the year. The WBC strawweight titlist reached the magic 50-0 mark in style as he destroyed mandatory challenger Leroy Estrada before taking a unanimous decision over solid challenger Pedro Taduran. If the reports are to be believed and Wanheng does venture outside of Thailand then tougher challenges could lay ahead for the 33-year-old with a bout against the undefeated Tsubasa Koura mentioned as a possibility.
Despite making 3 defenses of his strawweight crown the stock of Knockout CP Freshmart dramatically dropped with 3 very poor performances and the fights against Xion Zhao Zhong and the rematch with Byron Rojas were honestly dire viewing. Knockout will need to dramatically up his game in 2019 if he’s to keep hold of his belt as he looks to be there for the taking.
Along with Cuba, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are now well established as the leading forces in amateur boxing and now both nations are making their presence felt in the professional ranks with Daniyar Yeleussinov, Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Shakhram Giyasov, Sadriddin Akhmedov and Israil Madrimov just a selection of names who are looking to make an impact. Expect the Kazak/Uzbek take over/invasion to ramp up even further in 2019 with so much strength in depth in both countries.
Finally any action that took place inside the ring in amateur boxing was completely overshadowed by a tumultuous struggle between AIBA and the IOC which has left boxing’s place at the Tokyo Olympics hanging by a thread. After being made interim President, controversial Gafur Rakhimov who is described as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals" by the United States Treasury Department was elected permanent President under farcical proceedings which saw certain delegations fail to vote and the electronic voting system fail to work.
Repeated warnings from the IOC regarding Rakhimov’s potential election as permanent President clearly were not heeded and coupled with governance and financial concerns, this lead to the planning for boxing in Tokyo being frozen therefore leaving everyone in total limbo. 2019 is without doubt a defining period in amateur boxing but the signs are bleak and a boxing tournament in Tokyo without AIBA’s involvement is a solid possibility which could lead to a messy split within the federations and in all of this the boxers are the ones who suffer due to the arrogance, selfishness and incompetence of those at the top.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
A week ago Satoshi Shimizu extended his perfect record to 8-0 8 Kos as he defended his OPBF featherweight crown against the undefeated Takuya Uehara. Uehara proved no match for Shimizu who scored multiple knockdowns on his way to a third round stoppage.
The intention from Shimizu’s team at the Ohashi Gym is to get him a world title tilt in 2019. We’ve heard that talk for a while now and it’s clear that the unorthodox southpaw is well beyond the regional level.
Looking at the featherweight landscape it’s difficult to see where Shimizu’s shot will come unless he can win some sort of eliminator and become a mandatory challenger. WBO titlist Oscar Valdez looks to be set for a January return after suffering a broken jaw in his March clash with Scott Quigg and a unification with the victor of the Josh Warrington Carl Frampton clash looks to be in the offing for possibly next summer. Leo Santa Cruz is involved in yet another pointless matchup and Gary Russell Jr will probably make his annual single appearance sometime in 2019.
There are numerous opportunities 4 pounds south but given Shinizu’s significant frame possibly draining him would make no sense at all and a rematch from the Olympics with Isaac Dogboe is dead for now as the Ghanaian lost his WBO title at the weekend. One bout that hasn’t been mentioned for Shimizu and seems feasible is actually 4 pounds north against WBO champion Masayuki Ito.
Ito impressed on his voyage to the US where he proved too good for Christopher Diaz in their vacant world title tussle in July. Before any thoughts of a potential domestic dust up with Shimizu, Ito makes a mandatory defense against Evgeny Chuprakov on December 30 in Tokyo. The fight is being broadcast on Fuji TV, where the Ohashi Gym have aligned themselves so any stumbling block regarding who would show the contest between Shimizu and Ito shouldn’t be an issue.
From Ito’s point of view a win over a 2012 Olympic Bronze medallist would greatly enhance his profile at home and enhance his stock with a victory over someone as dangerous as Shimizu and then he could try and pursue unifications in the US. At 32 Shimizu really doesn’t have any more time to waste and cannot afford another year of bouts at the regional level where he’d be heavily favoured and as previously stated his options at 126 lb look slim and a contest against Ito would be the most realistic.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
The saga between AIBA and the IOC shows no signs of coming to an end and it was announced that the IOC Executive Board have frozen planning for the boxing competition for the Tokyo Olympics including the qualifying process and ticket sales.
An inquiry has been launched into AIBA’s ability to host the boxing competition and to assess whether the various “significant concerns” expressed by the IOC have been properly addressed to their satisfaction. The inquiry will be headed by Executive Board member Nenad Lalovic and IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell stated that the inquiry would take place over the next few months with the aim to have a definitive decision on boxing’s future at the next Board Executive meeting in Lausanne next June.
For the first time Gafur Rakhimov was directly mentioned by the IOC regarding their concerns along with AIBA’s inability to open or maintain a bank account in Switzerland.
Despite the promises of IOC President Thomas Bach that there will be a boxing competition in Tokyo, the ruling only heaps more uncertainty onto proceedings and raises a number of questions such as:
If indeed boxing does keep its Olympic place and the decision is made next June, is barely 15 months enough time to carry out the necessary qualifying tournaments?
Given the ever decreasing guarantees of Olympic participation will there be a mass exodus of fighters choosing to turn professional?
If AIBA is suspended will there be a huge split between the federations which would badly damage the integrity of the sport?
What happens to the allotted qualifying spots from the World Series of Boxing?
Finally what happens to the next 2 men’s world championships which have been awarded to Sochi and Delhi which surely both countries would have budgeted for?
Whatever the outcome and the answers to these various questions, unfortunately the athletes and us fans can do nothing more than wait as 2019 really is a defining moment for amateur boxing.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
With HBO exiting the boxing business after their final card on December 8, US boxing is in an intriguing spot with 3 main entities jockeying for supremacy.
Top Rank has a long term deal with ESPN and the ESPN+ App also streams shows from the US and abroad, the PBC has extended its agreement with Showtime and inked a deal with Fox and streaming service DAZN has Matchroom and Golden Boy as their boxing providers along with the World Boxing Super Series.
For those outsiders there are actually some fabulous opportunities with the 3 above entities looking to snap up any available world class talent so as to fill the many dates and provide the best possible boxing content. One of those is World of Boxing, founded by Russian businessman Andriy Ryabinskiy, with well-known manager Vadim Kornilov managing the day-to-day operations. Their stable includes Alexander Povetkin, Denis Lebedev, Eduart Troyanovsky, Dmitry Kudryashov and Sergey Kuzmin amongst others. Hardcore fans, especially those in the UK where it was broadcast on Boxnation may remember the November 2015 Wednesday marathon afternoon of action from Russia which provided plenty of thrills and spills. You can view the show I’m referring to
Arguably the company’s biggest star Dmitry Bivol defended his light heavyweight title this past weekend in Atlantic City, out pointing Jean Pascal over 12 rounds. With his contract with HBO now expired, Bivol is a free agent and there surely won’t be a shortage of takers in an interesting 175 lb mix.
Adonis Stevenson defends his WBC belt against Oleksandr Gvozdyk this weekend with Stevenson aligned with the PBC and Gvozdyk signed with Top Rank. The rematch between Eleider Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev will take place on ESPN in February whilst IBF titlist Artur Beterbiev plies his trade on DAZN.
On the Bivol Pascal undercard, 3 of the brightest prospects in world boxing featured as a trio of Uzbeks all scored knockout wins.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev won medals at every major tournament which was no mean feat given the truly elite bantamweight mix in the amateur ranks. He notched up his 5th professional win, breaking down Isaac Zarate in 9 rounds and he is already world ranked at super bantamweight and has a very fan friendly style which viewers in the US should enjoy.
Shakhram Giyasov won Olympic silver in 2016 and gold at the 2017 world championships and was a flashy stylist with plenty of charisma as an amateur. In his 6 pro contests he really has adapted extremely quickly and he blitzed Miguel Zamudio inside a round in Atlantic City.
Making his debut was Israil Madrimov who stopped Vladimir Hernandez in the 6th of a scheduled 10 rounder. As an amateur Madrimov won gold at the Asian Games and Asian Championships and when in full flow his relentless attacks are a joy to watch.
Whilst it’s fair to say that Povetkin and Lebedev are at the tail end of their careers, the likes of Bivol, Akhmadaliev, Giyasov and Madrimov are supreme talents and if either of the 3 major networks can strike a deal with World of Boxing then it will only enhance their quality of product.
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