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.
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