In the 1980's and early 1990's we had some legendary Super Flyweights including Jiro Watanabe, Gilberto Roman, Khaosai Galaxy and Sung Kil Moon. Sadly when Galaxy retired the WBA title was left vacant and a new champion needed to be crowned. To find a new champion the WBA matched up two of the best fighters in the division in what turned out to be a hugely controversial bout on April 1992. It was controversial but a truly fantastic bout, that now, almost 30 years later, is often forgotten.
Katsuya Onizuka (18-0, 16) vs Thanomsak Sithbaobay (37-2, 21) I
To crown the new champion, the man to replace the legendary Khaosai Galaxy, the WBA matched up experienced Thai Thanomsak Sithbaobay, the then #2 ranked WBA fighter, with Japan's Katsuya Onizuka, the then #1 ranked fighter. The bout made sense, it looked great on paper and was another chapter in the long running Japan Vs Thailand rivalry.
Although not well remembered now Thanomsak was a legitimately brilliant Super Flyweight. Heading into this bout he had lost only twice, a split decision in Japan to Kenji Matsumura, in 1987, in an OPBF Flyweight title bout and a thin decision in a WBA Bantamweight title bout to Luisito Espinosa in 1990. He had been a former OPBF Flyweight champion, and had beaten the likes of Soon Jung Kang, Frank Cedeno, Torsak Pongsupa and Choo Woon Park. He was a talented all rounder, who could box, bang, fight and brawl, and a man who had earned Onizuka's respect when Onizuka had gone to Thailand and seen him training. He was regarded as the Thai successor to Khaosai Galaxy, and their next champion.
As for Onizuka he was a former Japanese champion who had ended the lengthy domestic reign of Shunichi Nakajima but was stepping up beyond domestic class for the first time. He had impressed, mightily, on the Japanese scene, whilst building a huge fan following. He was fun to watch, a very heavy handed boxer-puncher, with charisma and good looks, able to attract more than just the boxing fans to his fights. He was an anointed one, who was regarded as Japan's next big thing, and their first champion at the weight since the legendary Jiro Watanabe back in the mid-1980's. Onizuka was to Watanabe what Thanomsak was to Khaosai Galaxy, making this a proxy version of the bout we never got.
For those in South East Asia this was something to get excited about. Really excited about.
From the opening seconds it was clear that both men felt confident of their abilities and both began behind their jabs, looking for control of center ring and the ability to guide their opponents where they wanted them. The winner of the battle of the jabs was Thanomsak who's jab seemed stiffer than Onizuka's and it seemed he was also landing it cleaner, backing Onizuka on to the ropes mid way through the round. To his credit Onizuka fought well off the ropes, but he took some solid body shots from the Thai whilst there. The second round was much like the first, with both men battling for center ring, and the Thai getting the advantage, despite some good moments from Onizuka. By the mid way point of round 2 it was clear we were getting something a little bit special, with each guy responding to being hit with combinations of their own. Despite some amazing back and forth action it seemed, once again, like the Thai did more than enough to take it, especially with his stellar combinations and more consistent offensive work.
Realising that Thanomsak was stronger than her was Onizuka seemed to change tactics in round 3. He had given up trying to take center ring and was instead going to use the outside of the ring, fighting off the ropes. He did need to change things but it wasn't a tactic that had immediate success, instead it seemed to allow the Thai to walk in and unleash with him on the ropes. Although the success for Onizuka wasn't immediate he did have some great moments fighting off the ropes, and tucked up well when the Thai was unloading. By the end of the round Onizuka was bloodied from the nose and, seemingly, down on all 3 cards. He had had moments but was being out worked.
The pace and tempo continued to be red hot in round 4 as Thanomsak continued pressing the pace and forcing Onizuka on to the ropes. This time around however Onizuka began to have consistent success off the ropes, moving well, and landing clean. Thanomsak on the other hand seemed to slow, he still had moments of great success, but they were less consistent than they had been in the first 3 rounds. The Thai was certainly slowing down, though it was unclear if it was due to his work rate or a choice, as he still seemed to be controlling things and stepping up the pace in exciting bursts.
In round 5 we again saw Thanomsak slowing slightly. He continued to pick moments to strike, and when he let his hands go he looked sensational, but the tempo was dropping from him. Then again we weren't seeing Onizuka make him pay, instead we were seeing the Japanese local have his face smeared with his own blood, backing off, and moving without letting his hands go. It was hard, if not impossible, to have given Onizuka any of the first 5 rounds, putting him in a hole, bloodied and looking like a man who had to turn things around, and quickly.
Sadly for Onizuka things didn't really seem to improve much in round 6, at least not early in the round. He did however have some good success in the middle of the round, when he began to get off the ropes and work with some space. It wasn't a clear round for him, or anything like that, but it seemed, at last, that he was starting to put some moments together, landing some solid shots and getting Thanomsak's respect. That continued in round 7, as the Thai continued to slow, feeling the pace of his brilliant start, and Onizuka began to back him up. The tables were beginning to turn and Onizuka was on the charge at last, though he was still in a deep, deep hole.
After a very good round for Onizuka he seemed to fail to build his success, and round 8 was a much closer one. Thanomsak didn't seem to suddenly have a second wind, but it seemed like Onizuka just failed to keep his foot on the gas. The local may have done enough to take the round, but it certainly wasn't a clear cut one, and it was far too close for comfort, given how clearly he had lost the first half of the bout. Round 9 was another where it seemed like Onizuka should have put his foot hard on the gas, but he couldn't and Thanomsak managed to have enough moments to keep things very close through the round. The aggression, pressure and combinations were gone from the Thai's work, but he was boxing smartly, jabbing, moving, making Onizuka miss and relying on the basics of the sport. It was a round that the Thai seemed to win, but simply keeping things simple, and re-opening a cut on Onizuka's left eye.
By now it seemed like Onizuka had 3 rounds to at least drop the Thai. Sadly for him he was looking too tired to press forward, and despite some fantastic flashes he was consistently out boxed through the round by an exhausted looking Thanomsak, who again kept things very simply, using his jab and his footwork to keep Onizuka at range.
After a few quieter rounds we saw Onizuka rush off his stool to begin round 11. The penny seemed to drop, at last, that he had to turn it on, put his foot on the gas and go for it. This lead to a truly brilliant round as both men sucked it up, dug deep and let their shots go. This was much more like the action from the early rounds, though it was Onizuka who was beginning to hammer away at his foe. Thanomsak came back but overall it was a round for the local, a clear round for him, and one he seriously needed.
With Onizuka having had a very good round 11 it seemed like he was going to end the bout hot, coming out hot for round 12. That however didn't really happen, and it was Thanomsak out worked his man in the final round, letting his shots go, catching Onizuka clean with head shots, unleashing flashy combinations. Onizuka certainly had moments, but nowhere near the amount we had expected from him, or the amount he needed. Going in to the round it seemed he was quite some distance behind, winning the round wouldn't have changed things, he needed to go out and try to stop the Thai.
After the bell Thanomsak celebrated, raising his hands. It seemed he was going to reclaim the title for Thailand, and take back the belt Khaosai Galaxy had vacated, Onizuka on the other hand walked back to his corner looking dejected. Like a beaten man. He seemed resigned to knowing his unbeaten record was gone, his title shot had ended with disappointment and that he had a lot of work to do to become a champion.
Then the result came in, and to everyone's surprise Onizuka was announced as the winner. Whilst his team, and the crowd celebrated he looked unhappy, as if he knew he hadn't won. The Thai looked genuinely disgusted at the result.
Whilst many of the fans had cheered the result, and Onizuka, there was a solid number who were angry about the outcome, describing it as a "Kyoei decision", blaming Onizuka's promoter. With scores of 115-114, twice, and 116-114 all in his favour the Japanese fighter had gotten the win courtesy of a 10-10 round on two cards, and two of them on the third.
Some of those in the venue told Thanomsak what they had thought, telling him that he should have been the champion. That he should have got the decision.
Around 19 months later the two men rematched, and once against Onizuka got a close decision. He would go unbeaten until September 1994, when he was finally dethroned by Hyung Chul Lee, and then retired due to an eye issue. As for Thanomsak he became a member of the "who needs him club?" after the second bout with Onizuka. He fought through to 1996, losing to Sirimongkol Singwancha, before a 1 fight return to the ring in 1998, which he lost. In the end Thanomsak would retire having never won a world title, and is regarded as one of the best Thai's to have never claimed a belt at the very highest level of the sport.
We've looked at the 1960's, 70's and 80's and now we look at the 1990's as we continue to look at some under-rated fighters. The 1990's was an interesting decade, as the IBF and WBO world titles gave fighters more options than ever, but again we're only considering fighters who never won world titles.
This week we have fighters from South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Japan as we look at some of those fighters that are over-looked, having misleading records and are better than people realise!
To be considered for any decade a fighter might have either fought during 5 years of the relevant decade, just that decade, more than half of their career in that decade, or had most of their most notable bouts during that decade. As a result of those rules we will also only be considering their records for that decade.
Also just for clarity we are only considering Asian fighters for this series.
Where a fighter fights in multiple decades, they can be considered for multiple decades.
Also please note this isn't a comprehensive list of over-looked fighters from the decade and the list could have been much, much longer than it is and we may do a second volume in the future.
Jung Oh Park (Career tally 27-4-3 (20); record during the 1990's 13-2-2 (11))
Fans who have followed the sport since the 1990's will likely recognise the name Jung Oh Park. In 1995 he suffered a 4th round TKO loss to Ike Quartey in a WBA Welterweight title bout. That was a whooping for Park and sent him into retirement. Sadly that's pretty much the only bout Western fans will know him for, and the other 16 bouts he had during the decade won't get a second thought.
For us however Park needs to be measured on what he did do, which was dominate the Asian Welterweight scene through much of the 1990's.
Park was the Korean national champion and sported a 14-2-1 (9) record when we headed into the 90's. By the end of 1990 he had added the OPBF title, stopping Yong Bae Cho. From there he would make 13 successful defenses, including successful defenses against Jintoku Sato, who dominated the Japanese national scene, and Hiroyuki Yoshino. Not only did he have a lengthy run with the OPBF title but he was also thrilling to watch, with an exciting, aggressive style that really made some of his bouts brutal to watch.
Sadly by the time Park fought Quartey he had shown some serious signs of decline and had failed to win either of his 2 previous bouts. He was only 27 going into the Quartey bout but was an old 27 and had absolutely no answer to Quartey's jab. The gulf between Oriental level and world level was huge, but at Oriental level Park was king for the first half of the 1990's.
Jong Kil Kim (Career tally 22-12-4 (14); record during the 1990's 14-6 (8))
The career of Jong Kil Kim is a genuine oddity, with a record that is baffling. He entered the 1990's with a record of 7-5-4 (6), with his final bout coming into the decade coming in December 1988. Not only that but his final 5 bouts of the 1980's had seen him go 0-2-3. It took until 1993 for him to re-appear in the sport but by the end of the decade he certainly made a mark, despite only adding 20 bouts to his record during the decade.
Between January 1993, when Kim returned to the ring, and the end of February 1995 he had gone 3-4 for the decade, with losses to Jong Hoon Yuh and Hiroyuki Sakamoto. Despite that poor start to the decade he would then go 12-2 with noteworthy wins over Jung Bum Kim, Jong Jong Pacquing, Jong Hoon Yuh and Hisao Arai. Not only did he score those 4 good wins but he also became a 2-time Korean Light Welterweight champion and the OPBF champion, losing the belt just days before the decade was over.
Interestingly 3 of Kim's 6 losses for the decade came against Jong Hoon Yuh, with him beating Yuh in their 4th meeting.
Despite having so many losses Yuh was a tough nut, he was never stopped, was in with some serious punchers and managed to have many of his best results the wrong side of 30. He was never a world beater, but he was a lot better than his record suggests, and his win over Pacquing was a brutal war for those interested in something to watch!
Faisol Akbar (Career tally 16-6-3 (3); record during the 1990's 14-5-2 (3))
We're going to preface this by stating that we don't think many Indonesian fighters have complete complete records. We think a lot of Indonesian fights are missing. With that said we can only go what boxrec report, unless another source is more complete, and we find it hard to not include Faisol Akbar based on his 19 recorded bouts for the decade.
Akbar's first recorded bout came in 1990, in fact his first 3 recorded bouts came in 1990, before he seemingly went off the radar. By 1993 he had apparently amassed a 16-3 (3) record when he fought to a draw with Korean Oh Kon Kim for the first time. The two would rematch later that year with Kim taking the win and the OPBF title.
Around 11 months after losing to Kim, Akbar resurfaced and fought to a split decision loss to Ronnie Magramo. Just a month later he recorded the first of two wins over future world champion Muhammad Rachman. In 1997 Akbar added another major win to his record as he beat Wandee Singwancha, to claim the IBF Inter-Continental Minimumweight title. That win lead to a 1998 show down with Zolani Petelo for the IBF world title, with Akbar losing a very close split decision in South Africa to the champion.
Whilst it's hard to know exactly what Akbar's record should be it's fair to say that wins over Rachman, twice and Wandee as well as a split decision loss to Petelo show his quality and he is very much an under-rated fighter. Reality is that he probably has twice as many fights unrecorded as his boxrec numbers suggest, and he clearly had a lot more talent than the numbers we have suggest.
Rey Paciones (Career tally 39-8-3 (11); record in the 1990's 14-5 (5))
We're bending the rules slightly here for Filipino Rey Paciones, who only fought until 1993, but what he did in those 3 years sees him included on the basis that his biggest fights came in the 1990's. It was a decade in which he lost more 25% of the bouts he was in, suffered 1 of his 2 career losses, but was an absolute nightmare to go up against. He could nick an upset when opponents over-looked him and could test real top quality fighters.
In 1990 Paciones went 5-0, including an upset win over Tacy Macalos, the following year he went the distance with Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, Yong Hoon Lee and Yasuei Yakushiji. In 1992 he picked up a notable win over Rolando Bohol and took Jung Il Byun the distance, not long before Byun won WBC Bantamweight title. Sadly though his career came to it's end in early 1993 when he was stopped, in the 12th round, by Rolando Pascua.
Few fans will remember Paciones, but his opponents will remember the tough Filipino fighter who really was a gatekeeper in the early part of the decade. From his 19 bouts in the decade he lost to 3 future world champions, one former world champion and beat beat 2 former world champions. A very notable and under-rated fighter from the early part of the 1990's.
Jess Maca (Career tally 48-23-6 (18); record during the 1990's 37-16-3 (16))
Filipino fighter Jess Maca is not a fighter with a record that would suggesting anything too exciting. This series however loves fighters like this, as Maca's record is so misleading it doesn't even tell a quarter of the story about the "Japanese Killer" who fought from 1990 to 2007.
Maca began his career without doing too much of note but did was incredibly busy in the early part of the decade and had 23 fights to his name by the end of 1992. They had included a decision loss to future Flyweight world champion Chatchai Sasakul and going 1-1 with Nolito Cabato. As the decade went on he began to rack up bouts against more and more notable fighters, losing decisions to Saen Sor Ploenchit, Gerry Penalosa and In Jin Chi in 1993. A loss to Daorung Chuwatana in 1994 was another decision against the tough Maca, who went the distance with Chi again in 1995 and Daorung in 1996. He would twice see the final bell against Samson Dutch Boy Gym and also against Veeraphpl Sahaphom.
Of course going the distance with world class fighters was only part of Maca's 1990's. In 1997 he beat the then 11-0-1 Masahiko Nakamura in Japan, returning to the Land of the Rising Sun to do the double over Nakamura in 1998, to claim the OPBF Bantamweight title. With the OPBF title around his waist he went on a run of victories in Japan against Setsuo Segawa, Shigeru Nakazato, Shin Yamato and Taiji Okamoto. By the end of the decade he was riding a 9 fight unbeaten run into the new millennium.
Yes Maca was no world beater, but he was a tricky out for anyone, and in fact it took until 2003 for him to lose the OPBF title, losing it to Hozumi Hasegawa. He was a nightmare and a genuinely over-looked fighter.
Dan Nietes (Career tally 27-10-1 (17); record during the 1990's 24-10-1 (16))
Donnie Neites is a Filipino legend and one of the top Filipino names of recent years. Along with Nonito Donaire and Manny Pacquiao, he has been one of the faces of Filipino boxing. Donnie's uncle, Dan Nietes, on the other hand is an often over-looked fighter who only ever managed to win a GAB title during his career. Despite the lack of wider success he was criminally under-rated between 1989, when he began his career, and 1995, when he had his final bout.
Nietes entered the decade with a 3-0 record and would compete in 35 bouts during the 1990's. These included decision losses to Pichit Sithbanprachan, in which he dropped the then 14-0 Pichit who had recently won the IBF Flyweight title, Saen Sor Ploenchit, and a split decision loss to Samson Dutch Boy Gym.
He's not as notable as Paciones and Maca, not by any stretch, but with losses in 10 of his 35 bouts it's worth considering who he fought, and tough tests he gave guys like Pichit and Saen Sor. Sadly he lacks in terms of notable wins, but was certainly not an easy out in the early to mid 1990's.
Thanomsak Sithbaobay (Career tally 56-6 (33); record during the 1990's 29-5 (20))
Coming through the Super Flyweight scene at the same time that Khaosai Galaxy was dominating the picture Thanomsak Sithbaobay was expected to be the heir apparently for the Thai's. Sadly however Thanomsak failed to win a world title, due in part to some questionable scoring and a real lack of good fortune.
Thanomsak headed into the 1990's with a 27-1 (13) record, with his only loss coming in by split decision to Kenji Matsumura in 1987. He had momentum coming into the decade and a feared reputation. Sadly though he would suffer his second professional loss before the end of 1990 as he lost a close decision at Bantamweight to Luisito Espinosa. He bounced back from that defeat and got a shot at his more natural weight, Super Flyweight. He travelled to Japan for that bout and lost a very controversial decision to the hugely Katsuya Oniuka, in a contest for the WBA Super Flyweight title that Galaxy had previously held. Many, including some in Japan, felt the Thai had been robbed and in 1993 he got another bout with Galaxy. Again he was denied with some questionable scorecards in favour of the Japanese star.
Following Thanomsak's second loss to Onizuka he reeled off 12 straight wins, including a TKO win over Rolando Pascua, before being stopped by future world champion Sirimongkol Singwancha. The bout ruined Thanomsak who wouldn't fight for 2 years, then returned in 1998 and was stopped by Tetsutora Senrima in 1998.
Although perhaps not quite as good as some once though Thanomsak was incredibly unfortunate in both of the bouts against Onizuka and really should have been a champion. Whilst he did get 3 title shots, and was fairly beaten in the first, 2 of them could easily have gone his way. A genuinely unfortunate fighter who deserves to be remembered much more than he is.
Yamato Mitani (12-4, 9)
It's fair to say that Yamato Mitani may be the toughest guy on this list, even if he wasn't the best. The Japanese Super Featherweight fought from 1993 to 1998 and despite suffering 4 losses in 16 bouts has one of the many misleading records we see when looking at under-rated fighters. He was a former Japanese champion, 2-time OPBF champion and was only ever beaten by 2 men, more about that in a few moments.
Mitani had turned professional after going 91-13 in the amateurs. The expectancy was huge for him, and he had signed a monster contract when he turned professional with Misako boxing gym, who had made sure his fights were going to be shown on Fuji TV. Not only did he had a TV deal early on and a notable Japanese promoter but was also matched up with former world champion Tadashi Mihara. Everything seemed to be behind Mitani being a star.
Unfortunately for Mitani he found a true nemesis and lost his 5th bout to future world champion champion Yong Soo Choi. He also lost his 9th and 11th bout, both of which were WBA Super Featherweight bouts and both were razor thin decisions to Yong Soo Choi. Within 11 bouts Mitani was 8-3 (7) and had lost a trio of bouts to one of the toughest and roughest fighters of his era. Whilst they were certainly setbacks he certainly achieved a decent amount to. He won the Japanese Super Featherweight title, beating Toshikazu Suzuki, stopped Noree Jockygym for the OPBF Bantamweight title and would later stop Joselito Rivera to reclaim the OPBF title. As well as his 2 OPBF title reigns he also score a notable win over Nobutoshi Hiranaka before losing his final bout to Kengo Nagashima, the second man to beat him.
On face value a 12-4 record doesn't look great, but losing 3 razor close fights to Yong Soo Choi really does put into some perspective that he was a lot better than his record indicates. He was rough, tough, heavy handed, and very fun to watch.
Hitoshi Kamiyama (Career tally 32-2-1 (20); record during the 1990's 19-1 (13))
We suspect some fans may recognise Hitoshi Kamiyama's name, and will be aware that he fought for the WBA Light Middleweight title in 1992, when he lost to Julio Cesar Vasquez in Argentina. That is probably the most some fans know about Kamiyama, but he ruled the Japanese scene with an iron fist. Despite not being world class.
Kamiyama had entered the decade with a 13-1-1 (7) record and the Japanese Light Middleweight champion. When he retired in 1995 he had avenged the one domestic loss, and draw, that he had had from the 1980's and had kept a hold of the Japanese title. In fact he had scored 17 defenses of the Japanese title during the 1990's. That alone would still be a Japanese for the weight class, and that was in just over 5 years of the decade.
Whilt the names Kamiyama beat aren't well known internationally they included Pat Lawlor, probably the most famous, Hiroyuki Yoshino, who had marked up Kamiyama's record in the 1980's with the draw and loss, and Akira Ohigashi, who would later win the title and run up 10 defenses of his own.
Whilst Kamiyama never made a mark at world level he simply dominated domestically to the point where the title was around his waist from January 1989 to his retirement in 1995. Yes he lost his biggest bout, quickly, but he ruled the roost at home
Hiroyuki Sakamoto (Career tally 39-7-1 (29); record in the 1990's 34-3 (25))
One of boxing's true "hard luck" stories is Hiroyuki Sakamoto. Sakamoto was neglected as a child, went into foster care and in recent years has become one of the real good guys of sport, helping kids in the position he was once in. His most notable bouts did come in the 2000's, including losses to Gilberto Serrano and Takanori Hatakeyama, but his work in the 1990's certainly made up the bulk of his career, with 37 of his 47 pro bouts taking place in the 90's.
Sakamoto debuted in 1991, won the Rookie of the Year in 1992, won the Japanese Lightweight in 1993 with a win over Rick Yoshimura, and was unbeaten until 1995, when he was out pointed by Juan Martin Coggi. He rebounded quickly and would defeat Jeff Mayweather just 6 months after losing to Coggi, with the win over Mayweather coming in what was Sakamoto's sole US bout. Sakamoto would add to accolades in 1996, when he won the OPBF Lightweight title
Sadly for Sakamoto he would go on to lose in would title bouts in 1997, to Stevie Johnston, and 1998, to Cesar Bazan losing both bouts by decision.
Despite losing his two biggest bouts of the decade Sakamoto did score noteworthy wins against Rick Yoshimura, Hiromu Kuwata, Jeff Mayweather, Roger Borreros, and Prawet Singwancha before the decade came to a close. Sadly an over-looked fighter, with great will power, heavy hands, a steely determination and a great story.
Sakamoto is someone who under-rated in the 1990's but has used boxing to be a platform for bigger things, and deserves, rightfully, to be included in any list of boxing good guy's, as well as this list of under-rated fighters from the 1990's.
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