After a truly hectic May, which has had big fights littered through the month, we drop back to reality in June as the schedule almost tails off completely and we sort of struggle to get too excited about too much taking place over the coming weeks. Thankfully here there is still enough to talk about without feeling the month is threadbare, but it's less about big fights, and more about emerging fighters.
This past week hasn't been the best or the busiest for Asian Boxing, with a very clear down turn in weekly activity, despite some big fights over the weekend. Sadly with such a lack of activity it has made our weekly awards a little bit focused on the fights from the weekend.
Fighter of the Week
Can Xu (17-2, 3)
The last 7 days have really lacked a big win for Asian fighters, other than China's Can Xu, who retained his WBA "regular" Featherweight title with an excellent stoppage win against Shun Kubo on Sunday. The under-rated Chinese "Monster" shocked us all when he beat Jesus M Rojas in January and the stoppage over Kubo was another impressive performance by a young man with a lot of potential. Although Kubo wasn't really suited to the fight that Xu brought it's hard to take away from Xu who looks like he really is coming into his own, and could very easily be the break out Chinese boxin star the country has needed.
Performance of the Week
Can Xu (17-2, 3)
For a second week running we have a double award winner. It was hard to see anyone really competing with Xu for the performance of the week, as he pressed the action, went through the gears and broke down the determined Kubo. Whilst Kubo seemed to be the more technically skilled fighter Xu's relentless attack, combinations and physicality were impressive and, it's great to see that Xu is now finding power on his shots.
Notable mention - Yuki Strong Kobayashi
Can Xu Vs Shun Kubo
With so little action it was clear that this weeks Fight and Round were unlikely to be spectacular. That's seen notably in the Fight of the Week, which, whilst entertaining, wasn't a FOTY contender or anything like that. This was just a fun, fan friendly bout with Xu moving through the gears and throwing more punches by the round whilst Kubo was eventually broken down. Kubo played his part, standing at mid-distance, trying to fight with Xu and made for an entertaining contest, until he was stopped. No one can doubt Kubo's fighting heart, but with this being his second stoppage loss in 3 bouts it's hard to know where he goes form this.
Can Xu Vs Shun Kubo (round 3)
As we've not managed to see the Osakan show from Sunday, the round of the week was another that will not stand the test at the end of 2019, despite again being fan friendly. This was the pick of the rounds from the Xu vs Kubo fight, and was the point where Xu began to step up his work rate, whilst Kubo would decline quickly in the rounds that followed and eventuaally be broken down.
We had no valid KO's this week
Tulio Kuwabata (3-0, 2)
Unbeaten Japanese prospect Tulio Kuwabata took a major step up this weekend and beat the previously unbeaten Eric Pulgo in a 6 round bout in Osaka. The talented Kuwabata looked sharp and skilled and appears to be one to keep an eye on in the Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight divisions. With this only being his third bout it's hard to know how far he will go, but there is a lot of talent here.
Notable mention - Shichao Gao
Charles Bellamy (28-3-2, 18) vs Yuto Shimizu (12-4-2, 5) II
Back in September Charles Bellamy took a split deciison over Yuto Shimizu in an entertaining 8 round battle. We're expect their rematch, this coming Saturday, to be even better than their first contest. Shimizu is the under-dog, as he was in their first bout, but at 37 years old we do wonder what Bellamy has left in the tank.
Earlier this year we did an "Introducing..." on Kadoebi prospect Yuki Nakajima. He has an older, a similarly promising, brother who fights out of the Ohashi gym. That is Bantamweight prospect Kazuki Nakajima (6-0, 5), who's a couple of years older than Yuki and a little further along with his career. Like Yuki big things are expected from Kazuki, though he has gone through a little bit of a career stagnation recently and hasn't fought since December, and we're hoping to see him back sooner rather than later.
Nakajima was born in May 1993, in the city of Yamatokōriyama, Nara prefecture and would run up an impressive amateur record of 72-15 (30) before turning professional. Whilst that record isn't an mind blowing one he was highly regarded and had competed on the national scene and was crowned the Kansai League MVP. That amateur pedigree excited those at the Ohashi gym and in 2017 Nakajima signed with the Hideyuki Ohashi lead gym.
On June 25th 2017 Nakajima made his debut, taking on fellow debutant Alangkan Worakhut from Thailand. The Japanese southpaw needed just 109 seconds to see off the Thai, who was dropped twice in the bout, once from a straight left and once from an uppercut. Although not badly hurt from the shots Alangkan knew he was beat and held his shoulder whilst being counted out, as if to suggest he had injured himself and although it seems hard to belive he did seem in total agony in his corner after the bout.
Just a couple of months later Nakajima would secure his second win, stopping Indonesian Resnu Sundava in 26 seconds. Nakajima would finish this one with a left hand to the body of the visitor. It's worth noting that Sandava had never previously been stopped, but didn't look like he wanted to be in the ring with Nakajima and looked like a man wanting to get out of the ring as quickly as possible.
Thankfully in December 2017, as part of the under-card to Naoya Inoue's win over Yoan Boyeaux, Nakajima was actually tested, as he went up against the criminally under-rated Taiga Higashi. Higashi, who really is a nightmare for a prospect, gave Nakajima a really good 6 round test. Not only did Nakajima get taken 6 rounds, for the first time, but he also lost a couple of rounds to Higashi, who also dropped Nakajima with a right hook, and was forced to fight through adversity. Although it had taken 6 months Nakajima had now been shown what professional boxing was about, and showed could dig deep when he needed to.
After having had such a good test the hope was for Nakajima to be given another test straight away. Sadly he was matched with Thai foe Siripong Prasroedpong, who lasted just 85 seconds. Thankfully it wasn't long before he stepped back up in class and stopped the tough Takuya Fujioka, who retired between rounds and took his first stoppage loss. Fujioka never looked like he was able to get into the bout as the skills, speed and power from Nakajima were simply too much and Fujioka's corner did well to save their man from additional punishment in the later rounds. Nakajima would again step up in his follow up bout, beating Yoshihiro Utsumi in 7 rounds, in what was his most impressive performances to date.
As mentioned Nakajima hasn't fought this year, with his win against Utsumi coming back in December. He's still young enough to take some time off, but we'd hope he fits in a couple of fights this year and makes up for lost time. He was looking really good at the end of 2018, and certainly has the potential to find himself in the title mix at Bantamweight, at least domestically and regionally, and it would be a massive shame if that potential went to waste.
Nakajima is a sharp punching, well school, heavy handed southpaw with high level skills. He still needs development, which experience will help him with, but the tools and team are in place for him to have an excellent career.
The Minimumweight division is one of the most interesting in Japan, thanks to the sheer number of rising hopefuls breaking through the ranks. Not only is there a lot of rising Minimumweight hopefuls, but there is a wonderful mix of styles among those youngsters. We have highly skilled boxer punchers, like Ginjiro Shigeoka, slick boxers like Yuga Inoue and aggressive punchers, like Kai Ishizawa.
It's the last of those hopefules we're going to look to introduce today, with Kai Ishizawa (5-0, 5) being one of the most interesting, exciting and aggressive Minimumweights out there. He's not as technically gifted as the aforementioned Inoue or as wonderfully rounded as the sensationally talented Shigeoka, but he is very promising, very exciting and very, very aggressive. Often using his physicality and incredible strength to make up for his technical limitations.
The 22 year old Ishizawa, from Kanagawa, debuted in June 2017, following a 42 fight amateur career. In the unpaid ranks Ishizawa didn't really impress, running up a 28-14, record. What he did do however, was show a style that had the potential to be very successful in the professional ranks, albeit with the need to be refined and polished.
On his debut Ishizawa looked really powerful, taking out Thai novice Phongsaphon Panyakum in 2 rounds. Interestingly since losing to Ishizawa the Thai youngster has gone 3-0 in his native Thailand showing that he's not a total bum, even if he was given a JBC ban following the loss to Ishizawa.
Just a few weeks after his debut Ishizawa would return to the ring and stop Yoshimitsu Kushibe in 2 rounds, in what was Kushibe's 12th professional bout. It was a big step up, but a step up that the young puncher made with no problems at all.
Despite having fought his first 2 bouts in the space of about 8 weeks it would take almost 6 months before Ishizawa would have his next bout, and it was an incredibly short one as he blasted away Nrathip Sungsut inside a round. It was around this time that he was starting to get some attention. It's rare to see Minimumweight prospects blowing away opponents, but that's what Ishizawa was doing, and was doing in an exciting fahsion.
Not only was Ishizawa creating a buzz after his first 3 wins, but he was also creating real belief within his team, the MT Gym, that he was a genuine talent. That belief was tested in April 2018 when he was matched with the then unbeaten Tatsuro Nakashima. Nakshima was 7-0-1 (5) and had reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2017, being eliminated on a tie-breaker following a draw with Yuga Inoue. This looked a huge step up for Ishizawa, but he again came out on top scoring a TKO win over Nakashima, who was saved by the referee with a badly swollen left eye, the result of Ishizawa's power. This was a Japanese Youth title eliminator, though sadly Ishizawa was unable to take part in a planned title bout with Daiki Tomita in July 2018 due to suffering an injury in training.
Despite missing out on a clash with Tomita we did see Ishizawa get a shot at the Japanese Youth title in November of last year, when he took on 2017 Rookie of the Year Yuga Inoue for the belt. The bout saw Ishizawa being out boxed, out fought and out battled through the first 4 rounds. He was made to look slow, clumsy and ineffective against a more technical, sharper and smarter fighter. Despite being out classed Ishizawa was showing his will to win and refusing to just roll over, eventually cutting Inoue and breaking him down to score a 6th round TKO.
We'll see Ishizawa attempt to extend hi KO run on June 1st, when he takes on Indonesian visitor Silem Serang. On paper this looks a mismatch, with Serang having a record of 13-19-2 (1) however the Indonesian did recently go 8 rounds with Ishizawa's former foe Tatsuro Nakashima and has also gone put up good efforts, in losses, to Wanheng Menayothin, Andika Sabu and Palangpol CP Freshmart. He might have 11 stoppage losses but he rarely gets blown out early, and should ask some questions of Ishizawa before being stopped later in the bout.
This past week has been an incredible one in the grand scheme of things. We've had Asian fighters fighting for world titles on 3 different days, we've had a whole host of prospects, Japanese title bouts, two live streamed shows on Boxing Raise, more streamed action from Thailand and Taiwan and it really has been a week to remember. With that in mind it's been a really great week for our weekly awards, and an incredible hard one to decide in terms of some winners.
Fighter of the Week
Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16)
We suspect that there will be no argument at all with us selecting "The Monster" as our fighter of the week. He really was the talk of the boxing world through the last 7 days, not only in the build up to his WBSS semi-final bout with Emmanuel Rodriguez but also afterwards, with his 2nd round demolition of the Puerto Rican really being something very spectacular. Whilst we did feel that Rodriguez perhaps had an overly inflated reputation coming in to the bout there was no questioning Inoue's performance. He took a round to get a read on Rodriguez, then destroyed him to become the first ever Japanese fighter to win a world title fight in Europe. This was the Monster announcing himself, and doing so in a way that leave no doubt about the Japanese star.
Performance of the Week
Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16)
For the first time ever our Fighter of the Week, generally given to the fighter who scored the best win, and our Performance of the Week, the fighter who impressed us the most, are the same man. We won't bother to repeat ourselves, though we will say that if you've not yet seen the performance this was something amazing.
Despite Inoue picking up the double we will just add that the performances form Yusaku Kuga, Tsubasa Maruchi, Masayuki Kuroda and Reiya Konishi were all very impressive and all would likely have been a serious contender had we not had the Monster do what he did in Glasgow.
Moruti Mthalane Vs Masayuki Kuroda
We loved the rematch between Ryuichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga, and the thriller between Tatsuya Yanagi and Koichi Aso, but the reality is that Monday's world title fight between Moruti Mthalane and Masayuki Kuroda was a level above the other bouts. This was something to behold, a 12 round war, with the skills of Mthalane put against the heart and desire of Kuroda. The champion retained his IBF Flyweight title relatively comfortably in the end, but that cannot take away from the fact that the bout was sensational. It was a really, really exciting, well fought contest that deserves to mentioned as a FOTY contender
Ryoichi Tamura vs Yusaku Kuga II (6)
There was so many amazing rounds this past week. We had things like Yosuke Fujihara v Naoya Okamoto, round 3, Koichi Aso v Tatsuya Yanagi, round 7, and and several rounds from Moruti Mthalane vs Masayuki Kuroda bout. For us however the Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout between Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga had the best round of the week. It's difficult to pick one, though we're edging with round 6, which was the round where the fight really came alive. Tamura, who was losing the bout quite clearly after 5 rounds, picked up his pace and we ended up with a 3 minute fire fight, that began the second half of a sensational fight. This was the sort of bout that we love, for the action, but hate knowing that there's a chance neither man will ever be the same. A truly brutal fight, with some truly amazing rounds.
Kenta Nakagawa TKO7 Ryosuke Nasu
For such an amazing, action packed week, we didn't really have many standout KO's on show. Whilst Naoya Inoue's stoppage of Emmanuel Rodriguez was impressive Rodriguez wasn't out cold. Arguably the best of the bunch was Kenta Nakagawa's brilliant left hand against Ryosuke Nasu, that left Nasu out in Nakagwa's corner. The bout hadn't been thje mopst notable but the stoppage was huge and really showed that, despite his limitations, Nakagawa can bang at this level.
Ryusei Kawaura (6-0, 4)
If we're being totally honest the Prospect of the Week was one of the harder categories this past week, even hard than the Fight and Round of the Week. We had notable wins for not only our winner, Ryusei Kawaura, but also Batyrzhan Jukembayev, Shakhobidin Zoirov, Elnur Abduraimov, Eric Pen and Tsubasa Maruchi. For us Kawaura's win over Renoel Pael, and the manner of that win, was what won him the award, but in reality it was really close and we got a real glimpse at some amazing talent this past week, talent that will make a mark at a much higher level in the near future future.
Carlos Canizales (21-0-1, 17) vs Sho Kimura (18-2-2, 11)
As with the week we've just had there is a lot to look forward to over the coming 7 days. For us the highlight, at least on paper, is the WBA "regular" Light Flyweight title bout between Carlos Canizales and Sho Kimura. This has the potential to be a sensational bout, and a true FOTY contender. Canizales, looking to make his second defense of the title, is the natural Light Flyweight, and is a strong powerful guy at 108lbs, whilst Kimura is dropping down from Flyweight for this. If Kimura makes the weight safely we should be in for something truly, and gruesomely violent.
We mentioned them at the start of this but they need mentioning again, Boxing Raise were tremendous. They gave us two live shows, one of which was totally free whilst one was for their members. The first of those shows was arguably the show of the week and featured a trio of amazing match ups, once again showing the level of service their cards have.
TVK were a real mixed bag, winning the first ever "Half assed" award. Whilst they were big winners on Monday, live streaming the IBF Flyweight title bout between Masayuki Kuroda and Moruti Mthalane, we are really disappointed that they've not uploaded the bout to their youtube channel for a chance to rewatch what was a FOTY candidate...come on folks!
Masafumi Ando, who scored a huge upset by stopping former Japanese Welterweght champion Toshio Arikawa. Ando was expected to be taken out but completely ripped up the script to score a career defining win, and prove that even with his poor record he can still be a banana skin to much more well known fighters.
The action really doesn't stop this month, and the final third of the month gives us 5 world title bouts along with a lot of other great action as we really end the month with a great flurry of fights.
The Japanese Super Bantamweight scene is one of the most interesting, right across the levels. We have exciting prospects, a great domestic title scene, and some fantastic world class fighters finding themselves in the mix at world level. It's a division that is hard to break into, but is one where if you can conqueror domestically you're probably ready to fight at world level.
Today's introducing looks at one of the Japan's rising prospects in the division, Tulio Kuwabata (2-0, 2) who is set for a huge step up in class later this month when he takes on experienced Filipino John Mark Apolinario in a 6 round bout.
The 22 year old Kuwabata is a fighter at the well established Mutoh Gym, one of the best gyms in Osaka. He's one of their best prospects, along with Riku Kunimoto who has also featured in one of these articles, and like Kunimoto he was able to make his name in the amateurs. On paper his amateur record, reportedly 25-11, is unremarkable though the competition he was facing in the unpaid ranks was very interesting as he was part of the ultra competitive High School and University scenes, captaining teams at both levels.
The youngster turned professional last year and made his debut in China, stopping Zhiliang Yang in Kunming, on a show that also featured Riku Kunimoto. The youngster, fighting in a 4 round bout, stopped Yang in the second round of the bout and looked good without looking spectacular. It was interesting to note that he was kicking off his career on the road, something we rarely see from Japanese prospects.
Having debuted in September the youngster would return to action around 3 months later for his Japanese debut, and take a clear step up in class as he took on Japanese foe Yosuke Taniguchi at the Sumiyoshi Ward Center on Christmas Eve. This was a huge step up in class from his Chinese debut and yet Kuwabata made things look easy as he applied intelligent pressure on to his more experienced, and taller, opponent. It was obvious after just a few seconds of this bout that he was able to out jab the longer man, and was quickly able to establish his jab. It wasn't just the jab that shone here however, and he was showing off great variety with some crisp body shots and a brilliant knockdown at the end of the opening round with a looping right hand up top. He would close the show the following round, as he turned up the pressure and dropped Taniguchi for the second time.
Although not a true amateur star it's hard not to be impressed by his crisp punching, variety and confidence. Going in with Apolinario this early in his career is impressive, and a win over the Filipino, even if Apolinario is a somewhat faded force, would be a statement to the division, as Kuwabata begins to hunt rankings, and future title fights.
Sadly we can't share footage of his win over Taniguchi, but it it is available on Boxing Raise for those interested.
This past week has been a strange week of action. We had two notable Japanese cards, a pretty interesting Thai card, a Korean card and brilliant Hong Kong card. It's made for a busy week, and a fairly interesting one!
Fighter of the Week
Hironobu Matsunaga (15-1, 9)
Japanese Light Middleweight Hironobu Matsunaga takes home top honours this week following his excellent win over Nobuyuki Shindo, to claim the Japanese title at 154lbs. Matsunaga had entered the bout was the under-dog against the taller, longer and more experienced Shindo. Despite all the disadvantages Matsunaga set the pace, was in Shindo's face and later went on to break down Shindo, who retired between rounds 6 and 7. The bout may end Shindo's career though for Matsunaga it's his biggest win, by far, and extends his current winning run to 9 bouts. It's hard to know how long Matsunaga will reign atop the Japanese domestic scene but this week is his week!
Performance of the Week
Keita Kurihara (14-5, 12)
The Performance of the Week award was one of the easier awards this week, with Japanese puncher Keita Kurihara being the run away winner. The OPBF Bantamweight king created history by scoring the fastest ever win an OPBF Bantamweight title fight. The performances lasted for a little over 30 seconds but the hard hitting Kurihara impressed with every one of those seconds, whilst sending the popular Warlito Parrenas into retirement. Given how Kurihara had failed to put away Yuki Strong Kobayashi in December this was a real return to form for the youngster!
Raymond Poon KaiChing vs Xiang Li
It's not often that Hong Kong gets our attention but it did this week for an excellent card from DEF HK. The main event of that card saw local hopeful Raymond Poon KaiChing take on aggressive Chinese southpaw Xiang Li in what turned out to be a really, really exciting 10 round back and forth war. On paper Poon had the advantages in terms of power, home advantages and crowd support but Li set a high tempo, fought with real hunger and looked the more technically sound fighter in what was a brilliant back and forth contest. This one is one that all fans should give a watch to, and it really was an instant Closet Classic between two young men each looking to prove a point.
Raymond Poon KaiChing vs Xiang Li (round 10)
We'll stay with the Fight of the Week for our Round of the Week, with the final round between Poon and Li being utterly brilliant as both dug deep, deeper than either was expected to dig. This was 3 minutes of desperation from two men desperate to take home the win, two men determined to give all they had, and two men who's styles just gelled. This was exactly what we love in the sport, and a reminder as to why some of these smaller cards are among the very, very best that the sport can provide.
Takenori Ohashi TKO7 Shun Wakabayashi
Former Japanese Featherweight champion Takenori Ohashi was behind on the scorecards, being out boxing, out moved and out though by Shun Wakabayashi. It seemed like he was around 5 minutes from losing to the unheralded Wakabayashi. That was until he connected with a brutal uppercut that left Wakabayashi out cold, staring at the lights and made it easy to forget the action that had come before hand. The shot erased all of Wakabayashi's good work and showed what an amazing equliser Ohashi's power is.
Lap Cheong Cheong (6-0, 4)
Macau isn't known as a boxing hotspot but it's got a potential gem within it's ranks in the form of Lap Cheong Cheong, who secured his 6th win this Sunday, when he beat Muhammad Wahid of Indonesia. Cheong's win wasn't necessary a big win, but his performance filled us with a lot of excitement, as he spent 6 rounds going full tilt in pursuit of a stoppage. He had the bout easily won after 4 rounds, but wanted to put on a show, wanted to stop his Indonesian foe and showed touches of star potential He's not an amateur standout, like many Prospects of the Week, but there is a lot to like about him. Aged 22 we're expecting to see Cheong competing at a much higher level in the future and given his career so far he is going to be a very special fighter to watch.
Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15) vs Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12)
We have some amazing fights over the next 7 days, though the fight we're most looking forward to is, unsurprisingly, the WBSS semi final bout between Naoya Inoue and Emmanuel Rodriguez. The bout will be for a number of titles, including the IBF, WBA "regular" and Ring Magazine titles, it'll also be for a place in the WBSS final and a chance to claim the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Whilst there are other great bouts, such as the Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout between Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga, as well as the potentially fantastic IBF Light Flyweight title bout between Felix Alvarado and Reiya Konishi, there was only ever going to be one bout winning this category. It is, however, a week to be very, very excited about. We are in for something very, very special!
When we first started this site, heading towards over 6 years ago now, the Thai boxing scene was one of the most active. In 2013 there was 148 shows in the country, many of those were televised with, Channel 7 (CH7) showing fights pretty much weekly and Channel 3 (CH3) also doing regular broadcasts.
To put that number into some perspective Japan had 233 shows in 2013, Philipines had 126, Indonesia had 95 and South Korea had 31.
There wasn't just an incredible level of activity but that activity was mostly about developing fighters as part of the next wave of the Thai boxing scene. An example of that was between January 25th and January 28th 2014 there was fights for Yodmongkol Vor Saenghtep, Wanheng Menayothin, Petch Sor Chitpattana, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Nawaphon Por Chokchai.These men were allowed to be active, were allowed to fight frequently on television shows and build their profiles.
In that year alone Wanheng and Srisaket, two of the biggest Thai names right now, each fought 7 times. They weren't the only busy fighters, but are certainly the two who appear to have benefited the most from that high level of activity.
As well as the emerging fighters, which also included Amnat Ruenroeng and Knockout CP Freshmart, we also saw the end of the legendary Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, who fought 3 bouts during the year before his retirement. Yes he came back in 2018 for 2 bouts, including the infamous rematch with Koki Kameda, but his career really ended in 2013. Like wise it was the last year that Denkaosan Kaovichit scored a win of note,
It was a transition year for the country, but a great year all the same, and a year that gave us some amazing fights, such as Kompayak Porpramook's FOTY contender with Koki Eto, and the entertaining bout between and Pornsawan Porpramook abd Rey Loreto.
At the time it seemed like the Thai scene, along with the Filipino and Japanese scenes, was amazingly healthy and as we entered 2014 we also seemed to be on the verge of a break out year for Fahlan Sakkreerin, Jr, who had stopped Ryo Miytazaki in Japan at the very end of 2013.
Sadly though things have gone backwards for Thai boxing since then. Activity has dropped, with no year since ever having the same amount of shows. Although 2015 boasted 140 cards that numbers declined to just 99 in 2016 and 2017 wasn't much better with 105. Although it climbed slightly in 2018, when there was 115, it was still a massive reduction from what we had seen just 5 years earlier.
That decline is despite the huge success of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the 52 fight unbeaten streak of Wanheng and the emergence of Knockout CP Freshmart.
Worryingly yet, there has only been 31 Thai shows this year as we write this. That's less than 8 a month and it doesn't appear that the trend is set to change, in fact the upcoming scheduled seems to be worryingly scarce. We are well on course for the lowest number Thai shows since the millenium, and we need to go all the way back to 1998 for a year with less than 8 shows a month. That was a year where there was only 71 shows in Thailand, and even then there was unique circumstances behind things. After all 1998 was a year that had followed a massive financial crisis through out Asia, a financial crisis which began in 1997 in Thailand.
Thailand has long been one of the Asian boxing powerhouses, but right now it's a country floundering and a country that is paying for it's mistakes in the sport. Despite the attention given to Srisaket.
For years it has delivered awful match ups, packing records with wins, but not developing fighters. The focus has seemingly been to turn away from fighters carrying the name of top gyms, and instead to carrying the name of a sponsor, showing a shift in focus. Gone are the days of regularly seeing fighters reprresent OnesongChaigym, Kokietgym and Kratingdaenggym, and now are the days of seeing fighters carrying names like CP Freshmart or Ruawaiking. There are a few exceptions, but the gym names being part of a fighters identity are a lot rarer than they used to be.
The TV companies, including long time boxing support CH7, have gradually changed their view on the sport. In fact CH7 have changed their policy on the sport so much that what were once weekly broadcasts are now a near rarity, with the channel only airing world title bouts. We've gone from having shows aired on different channels at the same time, to waiting weeks for a televised show, and even longer for one with some intrigue. The main channels of the past have fallen by the say side in some ways and been over-taken by a relative new comer who have raised the production standards and quality expected of a Thai show
That new channel is WorkPoint, who have really managed to step in, put money into the sport and been putting in what resembles quality control. That had been lacking at times, but was really needed when they moved into the sport last year. In 2018 Work Point put on 11 shows under their "WP Boxing" banner, and despite not always being huge shows, they were consistently worth watching. They were different to what other channels were putting on, and were a shining light in what was becoming a rather dark and dreary Thai sign.
With Workpoint it's not all doom and gloom, and boxing in Thailand isn't dead. It's not like Korea, where it's hanging on by it's finger nails. But it is hard in seeing what the next wave of Thai contenders is going to look like, and just how long their top names of today can remain relevant.
At the moment the top 3 fighters in Thailand are Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who is 32, Wanheng Menayothin, who is is 33, and Knockout CP Freshmart, who is 28. Srisaket, of course, lost last time out to Juan Franisco Estrada, Wanheng is 52-0 but is showing signs of aging in recent fights and will likely see his perfect record come to an end sooner rather than later, and Knockout has bored fans with dull performances.
Aside from the top 3 it's really unclear what is actually worth caring about in the Thai scene.
Their are prospects, like Apichet Petchmanee, Singsayan CP Freshmart, up coming world title challenger Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart and Chainoi Worawut and Thanongsak Simsri but they are few and far between. To get big bouts they will need to travel, their is little money backing the prospects and securing home advantage against good journeymen, gatekeepers and fellow hopefuls. If these fighters can get the bouts they need they could give us towards a new era in Thai boxing, but the feeling is that they won't be given the development match ups they need. They will either pad their records, and climb the rankings on the back of a lengthy unbeaten run, or be thrown to the wolves.
There is also the worrying trend for Thai fighters to be on the way down at a young age. The promising Fahlan Jr is looking to be on the slide at just 25 years old whilst the once touted Stamp Kiatniwat, at just 21, is looking like his career might be over before many fighters even turn pro.
Whilst there is clearly a lot to the downfall in the Thai scene, despite the huge success of Srisaket, the main thing is that it's happening, and that it's clearly happening. This isn't some gradual thing, but is something that is happening alarmingly fast. The change in CH7's policy is a big change, but the downturn was happening well before that, though it is hard to pin point when this downturn began. In fact it is likely a combination of the issues we've mentioned and a lot more.
There is, of course, one thing we've not yet mentioned, and that is the effect of ONE, which held it's first show in Thailand in 2016, the same year that there was less than 100 boxing shows in Thailand. The competition from other combat sports, including the traditional Muay Thai, is there and no longer is boxing the best alternative source of income for a top Muay Thai fighter who can join something like ONE. It's also worth noting that in 2013 the Sports Authority of Thailand lifted a ban on MMA, which may also have played a notable role in the decline of boxing.
It's hard to know for sure how much of an impact the rise of MMA had, but longer term we suspect it will deny the sport the chance to acquire some top Muay Thai fighters, something that has been a key source of talent.
One other thing to note is the strengthening of the Baht in recent years, meaning the Thai currency is stronger than it was in 2013, meaning domestic are essentially costing more than they did.
Despite all of this, it is not the end of Western style boxing in Thailand, it is however the start of a worrying trend. A trend that needs to end quickly of Thai boxing isn't going to be into a proverbial dark age. Hopefully the rise of Srisaket will kick start the next generation of Thai fighters, if it doesn't then it's hard to see what it will stop the current in decline in boxing in Thailand., though as mentioned there are a few beacons of hope and hopefully those will become the game changers Thailand needs right now.
We saw the sport bounce back from the big issues in the 1990's, and we've seen Thai boxing producing a gem when it's needed one in the past. Fingers crossed they produce another and the sport will be given another shot in the arm for what has been a major player for the Asian scene ever since Pone Kingpetch won the World Flyweight title back in 1960.
The Shinsei Gym is one of the more established ones in Hyogo, and has shown an ability to not only promote level shows, but also bringing through talented youngsters. Fighters like Ryuya Yamanaka and Shun Kubo have both going all the way to the top in recent years, and Reiya Konishi is currently banging on the door for a world title as well.
Given the level of fighters at the gym it's little wonder that they have a number of prospects coming through the ranks, one of the most promising is Tetsuro Ohashi (6-0-1, 1), a talented, skilled Super Flyweight prospect who is just 20 years old and has a lot of promise.
Ohashi, from Hyogo, made his debut in June 2017 as an 18 year old. His debut had come following a short, 10 fight, amateur career. His 10 amateur fights saw him run up a 5-5 (3) record, though he was still, obviously, a kid when he took part in those bouts and hadn't become the fighter he now is, who is a really promising hopeful.
On debut Ohashi stopped Akihiro Imai in 4 rounds, that was followed up soon afterwards with decisions wins against Genki Tashima and Kazusa Arai, with Ohashi ending 2017 with a record of 3-0 (1). Whilst neither of those wins will stand out it is worth noting that Arai had managed to get a little bit of hype after debuting in Thailand as an extremely young 15 year in 2016, so a win over him, when both were 2-0, was a pretty notable result for the young Ohashi.
The early momentum for the young Ohashi continued beyond the spring of 2018, when he out pointed Hiroaki Satomura in a West Japan Rookie of the Year bout. That win, in Osaka, moved the youngster on to the West Japan Semi-finals, where he was held to a draw by Shuto Aritsu. Despite the draw it was Ohashi who progressed to the West Japan final by virtue of the tie breaker rules that are used in the Rookie of the Year competition.
In November of 2018 Ohashi took on Shunichi Okazaki in the West Japan Rookie of the Year final. The bout pitted unbeaten men against each other, in fact not only were both unbeaten but both had identical 4-0-1 (1) records, making the bout look wonderfully even on paper. In the end the bout wasn't competitive, in the slightest, with Ohashi being too sharp, too quick and too smart for Okazaki, who had no answer to Ohashi's speed, movement and jab. It wasn't a flawless performance by any stretch, but it was an dominant one by the then 19 year old.
Ohashi would turn 20 just days after he beat Okazaki and the following month he would take on Shinobu Wakagi in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final. Once again Ohashi showed off his speed, his ring craft and his sharp punching, controlling the fight with his jab, movement, straight left hands and slippery footwork. It was like watching a matador and a bull, with Wakagi swigning at the air over and over, whilst being tagged by clean, accurate shots.
Although not a power puncher Ohahsi is a wonderful little boxer, with fantastic control of the ring, brilliant footwork and so much promise. He's not a puncher, but at the age of 20 there is time to develop his man strength, and we actually saw Masayuki Ito struggle to develop his power early in his career and has a similar style to Ohashi.
The 20 year old Ohashi will return to action on May 19th. His opponent, at the time of writing, is unknown but it's expected that the youngster will be his first 6 round bout, and we're really looking forward to seeing how he matures and develops. There is real potential here with Ohashi, and we really hope he delivers in the years to come.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces