When it comes to looking back over the 2020 Rookie of the Year there are lot of things that will stand out, such as how delayed the final was due to Covid19 and how the tournament final was fought in an empty Korakuen Hall. It will also, however, be remembered as the launch pad for several careers. Maybe the most promising of those is that of Super Featherweight winner Tsubasa Narai (7-0, 6), who dominated the tournament with 4 KO wins in his 4 bouts. Not only was he dominant through out the tournament, but he also showed genuine star power in a division that has been one of the most popular in Japan over the last 30 years or so.
The unbeaten 21 year old was born in Osaka City in August 1999 and would pick up the sport of boxing as a teenager. Although not a stand out amateur Narai was certainly a fighter with potential and after 26 amateur bouts he had amassed a 17-9 (6) amateur record, and had competed in a high school tournament. He had shown some potential, but he was certainly not a distinguished amateur when he decided to turn professional.
When Narai turned professional he did so as a Super Bantamweight with the RK Kamata Gym, and debuted aged 19, in the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year qualifying round. Despite only being in his debut he quickly made a mark, stopping Kento Nakano in 3 rounds to progress in the tournament. Whilst his debut was impressive he was even more destructive in his second bout, stopping Taison Mukaiyama in just 100 seconds to progress further in the tournament.
In Narai's third bout we saw him having the toughest bout of his career as he took on Yuki Yazan, in the East Japan Rookie of the Year quarter finals. Yazan, who would reach the All Japan finals in the 2020 Rookie of the Year, proved to be tough, and durable and survived the power of Narai, but couldn't do enough to take the decision as Narai took his first, and so far only, decision win. Sadly for Narai however he was unable to compete in the semi-final a few weeks later, which would have seen him face Takeshi Takehara.
Have gone so far in the 2019 Rookie of the Year Narai returned in 2020 for that year's edition of the tournament, which was delayed massively due to the Covid19 pandemic. This time he was at Super Featherweight, his young body filling out to that of a good sized 130lb fighter. On his debut at the new weight Narai would get back to scoring stoppages as he stopped the previously unbeaten Tomohiro igarashi in round 4 to progress in the tournament. That was quickly followed by a TKO2 win over the more experienced Hiromichi Komatsu in the East Japan semi final and then another TKO2 win over American born Japanese fighter Dominique Kenshin in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final.
Having done so well in 2019 Narai's success in 2020 saw him go further than he had a year earlier. But there was still the All-Japan final left for him, and that was going to come against West Japan representative Seika Fukuda, a then 5-0 fighter who was taller than Narai and was also looking to move their career forward. On paper this was an excellent looking match ups and one of the standouts of the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year finals. In the end however it ended up being a showcase of power and aggression from Narai. After taking a few seconds to get a read on Fukuda we saw Narai rock his man with a big left hook, and within a minute Fukuda was looking like a man who very uncomfortable with Narai's power. He tried to fight back, but Narai was far too strong, and Fukuda would be rocked later in the round and then dropped. He got back to his feet but was dropped again moments later forcing the referee to wave off the bout, despite the fact Fukuda quickly recovered to his feet.
Sadly since the All Japan final, in February, we've not see Narai have his next bout being scheduled, though we're looking forward to it, whoever he faces.
At the moment Narai is very much an unpolished fighter, but he has an exciting style, genuine power, and he likes to fight. He's shown a willingness to stand and trade shots when he needs to, and he's shown to his hard enough to really shake people up when he lands. At just 21 we're not expecting him to be the complete article, but with the RK Gym behind him, they can certainly help him polish some of wilder traits of his. He's someone who perhaps won't be fighting for titles in the next year or two, but someone who certainly has the natural tools to be a major player on the Japanese scene over the next decade or so.
If you like fighters with power Narai is certainly one to keep a close eye on as he develops from crude puncher to future Japanese title contender, and potentially even further.
One of the many forgotten legends of Asian boxing is Kuniaki Shibata (47-6-3, 25), an aggressive Featherweight and Super Featherweight from the 1960's and 1970's. He was a multi-time world champion and featured in 12 world title bouts, in an era before the WBO and IBF made titles fights much easier to get. He was aggressive, exciting, small and, sadly for him, his chin wasn't the best, costing him in 5 of his 6 losses.
Despite some technical and physical flaws Shibata was a legend of his time and one of the few Japanese fighters who had real success on the road, as well as at home. In fact his wins on the road, in Mexico and Hawaii in particular, were some of his most important and career defining wins.
Today we want to shine a light on Shibata as we bring you the 5 most significant wins for... Kuniaki Shibata!
Katsutoshi Aoki (July 5th 1967)
When we talk about significant wins for a fighter we don't always mean the biggest, best or famous wins that a fighter scored. That's certainly the case here with Kuniaki Shibata's 1967 win over fellow Japanese Katsutoshi Aoki. The then 20 year old Shibata entered the bout 13-0 (9) and hadn't really faced anyone of note before taking on 24 year old Aoki, a once touted Japanese youngster. Aoki was coming to the end of his career, despite only being 24, but was a popular, notable fighter in Japan and was well known for his 1963 bout with Eder Jofre and for being a former OPBF Bantamweight champion. He had also shared the ring with a who's who of Asian boxing in the 1960's, including Hiroyuki Ebihara, Kenji Yonekura, Fighting Harada and Takao Sakurai.
Aoki was the first "name" that Shibata fought, and he was blasted out inside a round by Shibata. This was the quickest loss of Aoki's career and was the first "big" win that Shibata scored. It was also, sadly, Aoki's penultimate bout with the popular fighter fighting again the following month before ending his in ring career with more than 60 bouts to his name.
Yasuo Sakurai (April 15th 1970)
Sadly Shibata struggled to really build on the win over Aoki. He struggled to get bouts against notable fighters and ended up losing his unbeaten record in 1968, to Dwight Hawkins, before suffering a second loss in 1969, to Hubert Kang. His early promise was faltering and he needed to get his career back on track. Thankfully for him he did just that in 1970, which was a banner year for the talented, though chinny, Japanese hopeful. A key part of 1970 for him was his April bout with Yasuo Sakurai, for the Japanese Featherweight title.
Sakurai wasn't a star, but he was a hungry fighter looking to secure the biggest win of his career and the Japanese title. He was a similar age to Shibata and a solid southpaw. He was, however, stopped in 10 rounds by Shibata, who scored one of the biggest and most significant wins of his career, claiming his first title and adding some real impetus to his career, in what was his second bout of the year, his second of five.
Vicente Saldivar (December 11th 1970)
Shibata's final bout of 1970 was, by far, the biggest, most significant and most important win of his career and was also an unexpected one as he travelled over to Mexico and took on the legendary Vicente Saldivar at the end of 1970. The talented Saldivar was enjoying his third reign as the WBC Featherweight champion, having taken the title from Johnny Famechon in May and had been unbeaten since 1962, when he suffered the sole loss on his record. Since that loss he had gone 20-0 and had become a genuine great of the Featherweight division.
Despite Saldivar being a great he wasn't good enough, on the night, for an inspired Shibata who out boxed him and ended up forcing the corner to stop the Mexican great between rounds 12 and 13. At the time of the corner stopping the bout the Mexican was down on all 3 cards and had struggled mightily with right hands of Shibata. This win saw Shibata become the second Japanese fighter, in history, to win a world title on the road and the nation's 9th ever world champion.
Ben Villaflor (March 12th 1973)
Despite Shibata's massive upset win for the WBC Featherweight title over Saldivar his reign was disappointingly short. He only managed to record 2 defenses before losing the belt after just 17 months, when he was stopped by Clemente Sanchez in 3 rounds. Another loss just a few months later, to Andries Steyn seemed to suggest that Shibata's career was on the back end. Despite that he revived his career in brilliant fashion in 1973, a year that saw him pick up 4 wins.
The biggest of those 4 wins for Shibata came in March when he travelled over to Hawaii and took on hard hitting Filipino Ben Villaflor for the WBA Super Featherweight title. The bout was a close 15 round affair, though it was one that saw Shibata come out on top of, taking a unanimous decision over Villaflor. This win saw Shibata create history, becoming the first Japanese fighter to win world titles on the road more than once, and becoming Japan's second 2-weight world champion, following the legendary Fighting Harada.
Ricardo Arredondo (February 28th 1974)
Sadly Shibata failed to hold the WBA Super Featherweight title for long, losing the belt in a return bout against Villaflor, with Vollaflor taking him out inside 2 minutes! This was Numata's 5th professional loss, 4th by stoppage, and it was hard to know what he had left in the tank. He and his team however still had belief and just 4 months later he was back in the ring and taking on WBC Super Featherweight champion Ricardo Arredondo. Coming in to the bout Shibata was looking to do something no other Japanese fighter had ever done, become a 3-time world champion. He was also looking to reclaim, for Japan, a title that Arredondo had take from fellow Japanese fighter Yoshiaki Numata and do so in front of 14,000 fans at the Nihon University Auditorium.
The two men fought for the scheduled 15 rounds, but in the end Shibata was too aggressive and too hungry for Arredondo, taking a clear and fair decision. Shibata came out hungry and despite eating a fair number of jabs out worked and out hustled Arredondo.
It was later revealed that neither man was 100% for this. Shibata revealed he had sprained his ankle before the fight and Arredondo cited that he was struggling with the weight. Despite those issues the two men put on a show for the fans in a very exciting bout.
Sadly this was the start of the end for Arredondo, who went 8-13 after this bout. Shibata on the other hand made 3 defenses before losing the belt in 1975. After that loss he had 3 low key bouts at home, winning all 3, before ending his career in the late 1970's.
For this week in our "Who..." series we're going to have a bit of fun, be a little bit silly and stop taking the sport so seriously. We've looked at very factual things so far and really sometimes the sport is more about fun, and being a bit outlandish. With that in mind we're going to focus not on who we would love to see getting an opportunity or getting honoured in the hall of fame or anything like that.
Instead we're going to focus on something very different as we go very much into the world of fiction, and being shallow as hell as the guys behind Asian Boxing bring you the fighter tell you...
"Who... would make for a great movie villain?"
Before we get on to the answers, the guys have been told to select only Asian fighters, and by "villain" they can also include henchmen.
Lee - "Ok I'm going to pick someone based on how they looked in their prime, rather than how they look now. With that in mind, my selection is In Chul Baek.
Baek, to me, has the look of a heavy in some kind of a gangster movie. The old, grizzled veteran, who comes in to sort out the good guys who think they can get their hands on the boss. Of course he can also back it up with frightening power.
To me he always looked "rough and tough" and looked like he could hold his own in a street fight if needed. But also looked like he could hold his anger if he needed to. Of course we also know he liked to drink. A lot. And that would also make him great as a right hand man in a gangster movie.
The only issue I have with Baek as a villain, is that he was a bit small. But dress him in a suit, get him to be super quiet, and let be the ace in the hole for when he needs to step in and beat up the do gooders, or when ever his boss just wanted someone to have a good beating."
Takahiro - "A good villain has to look rough, look like he can handle himself, and knows how to fight. He also has to be bigger than most guys around him, and like he could kick anyones ass. For me the idea fighter for that task is former Japanese Heavyweight title contender Kotatsu Takehara.
At 6'1"he is much taller than most Japanese men, he is no pretty boy with a weathered and weary face, and although he's a very nice guy he looks very scary. A very intimidating man.
If I am looking for a movie henchman, or a man baddie, I would very much pick Takehara. He was a man who looked like he would batter people if they irritated him in the slightest and had a naturally angry look on his face."
Scott - "When a fighter is known as "Death Mask" it seems like we have an easy choice for this question. Former Thai great Veeraphol Sahaprom is a very obvious answer. He wasn't the biggest man, or the toughest man out there, but he already had the moniker, and had those cold steely eyes, with an emotionless face. If I could cast him he would be the emotionless hitman, shooting people in the back of the head then moving on.
Unlike the other guys mentioned he wouldn't be intimidating for his size or his looks necessarily, but I suspect the emotionless face of his would make him such a good movie hitman.
Maybe, as a sidekick, Veeraphol could have Rolando Navarrete alongside him. The "Bad Boy from Dadiangas" could be the wild and reckless one, causing trouble that Veeraphol needs to tidy up in his merciless way."
When it comes to the most well known promotional stables in Japan there is no one that matches Teiken, the stable that has dominated Japanese boxing, especially in recent years thanks to the relative collapse of main rival Kyoei. One of the many things that has helped make Teiken standout is their ability to attract some of the best talent in Japan, and many of the top amateurs from East Japan end up turning professional with the gym when they finally hang up their vest and begin to fight for pay.
Included in those former amateur standouts is Junya Shimada (0-0), who makes his debut later this week and is the focus of this week's "Introducing", as we flag him as one to pay attention to ahead of his May 6th debut against Shigeotshi Kotari.
The allure of Teiken really was seen in 2020, despite the pandemic, as the gym snapped up the signatures of several standout amateur fighters. They included Kenji Fujita, who we saw debut recently, Subaru Murata, who's debut is expected to come in the near future, and Shimada, who may be the mover over-looked of the recent Teiken signees.
Born in Kyoto in March 1998 the 23 year old Shimada was a genuinely top tier amateur, who not only had success at home, but also competed internationally whilst compiling a very impressive 58-23 record in the unpaid ranks.
Shimada began boxing at the Kokoku High school, in Osaka and continued to fight through his education, as he also competed during his time at Komazawa University.
Although the full details of Shimada's 81 fight career are unclear there are some details we know, including the fact he twice came third in notable national tournaments, including the 2017 Japanese National Sport Festival, where he was beaten by Ryuji Kanaka in the semi finals. The other semi-finalists there were Rentaro Kimura, the eventual winner, and the aforementioned Kenji Fujita, showing just how deep that tournament was.
More is known about how Shimada's 2018 went, with him fighting in a number of notable tournaments. They included the 2018 World University Championships in Elista, Russia. Sadly he was eliminated in the second round, by eventual silver medal winner Gabil Mamedov. Just weeks later he lost in the semi-final of the Japanese National Sports Festival in Ehime, losing to Kenji Fujita. He also competed at the 2018 Japanese National Championships, reaching the last 8 before losing to Taiga Imanaga.
Sadly for Shimada he was regularly in one of, if not the, deepest division domestically. For example the 2018 National championships saw the likes of Arashi Morisaka, Rentaro Kimura, Kenji Fujita and Ryosuke Nishida all in the final 8, along with Shimada himself. He was also younger than many of those other well established names, who had more experience than the young, but promising Shimada.
Despite not yet fighting as a professional there is a lot of expectation on Shimada and that's with good reason. He looked damn good as an amateur.
This can be seen in footage of Shimada in action, where he looked really quick, very sharp, had lovely light footwork and despite being an amateur also seemed to show the ability to target the body, something that many amateurs miss out on. His amateur record may not have blown many away, but it was clear, watching him, that he had the tools to be a major success. Had he chose to stay in the unpaid ranks major success would have come to him, sooner or later, it was too obvious that he had the tools to be a very good amateur.
Thankfully for us Shimada didn't stick around the amateurs for too long and instead turned professional, likely realising his style was more suited to the professional ranks. He looked like the type of fighter who wouldn't have any issues at all in switching from the amateurs to the pros.
Although we were impressed by how Shimada looked as an amateur there are areas to work on, and things we want to see him prove in the professional ranks. We never really saw him being given a chin check, which we'll certainly see in the pros, and we never really saw him show much power, though of course amateur gloves are much more padded and "safe" than the gloves used in professional boxing. There are also, of course, questions about stamina and pacing, the same questions that we need to ask whenever a fighter goes from amateur to professional. With Teiken behind him however we expect him to have answered some of those questions in the gym, hence him being matched with another former amateur standout on debut, rather than taking on a limited, low level, domestic fighter.
Shimada passed his B license test last September he explained what he felt in regards to his career, and stated "I'm finally on the starting line. I'm happy. My dream (to become the world champion) has changed to my goal. I feel that the real game is about to begin."
For those wanting to see what the fuss is about we've included Shimada's 2018 amateur bout with Jinu Ri below, thanks to the brilliant Sakana 1976 for filming and uploading the bout. If you're a fan of amateur boxing he is well and truly worth subscribing too
We're kicking off a new month and as we always do we get the chance to go back and look at some of the best, most unique, and most interesting names in Asian boxing history. This week we're going to leave our typical stomping ground, of Indonesia, along and focus on Japan, with 5 names from Japan. Included this week a Phantom, two former champions, someone who is very honest and some one who is new!
Attack Harada (23-29-4, 4)
We begin with a former champion as we look at Takeo Harada, better known by his fighting name of "Attack Harada", who fought from 1965 to 1976 and achieved a lot more than many fighters in this series. In fact Harada did a lot more than most fighters, full stop, during his 56 fight career. He struggled early on, debuting at the age of 17, but would go on to win the Japanese Super Bantamweight title in in 1970, dethroning Kuwashi Shimizu. Sadly his reign lasted just a few months, and he failed in 2 subsequent attempts to reclaim the title. Incidentally he also fought internationally, travelling to Thailand, Philippines, South Korea Guam and the US. Sadly despite his name he lacked stopping power, though was in some real battles during his time in the ring.
Snappy Asano (31-11-8, 1)
We mentioned Attack Harada failed in two attempts to reclaim the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, one of those actually came against another man making his way on to this list. Snappy Asano, born Eiichi Asano, was a fighter who fought from 1966 to 1974 and also won the Japanese title at 122lbs. He went on to hold the belt for 9 months, recording 2 successful defenses. As well as holding the Japanese title Snappy also fought for the OPBF title, earned a draw with the legendary Masao Oba, another draw with Chartchai Chionoi, in Thailand, and shared the ring with Venice Borkhorsor. Sadly Snap lacked the bite needed to make life easier, scoring just a single stoppage in his 50 fight career.
Sincere Inoue (3-1, 1)
The name "Inoue" has become one of the most notable in Japanese boxing in recent years thanks to Naoya Inoue, his brother Takuma Inoue and the unrelated Takeshi Inoue. Before the current wave of Inoue's there was the Sincere Inoue, a Japanese fight from the 1970's and 1980's. Sadly Inoue's record appears to be an incomplete on boxrec, though we're not sure what his complete one would be. What is known is that he faced future Japanese Lightweight champion Cheyenne Yamamoto in 1982, in the only loss Boxrec has for him. We are, very confident his record is wrong, due to him having a 4 year gap and "beginning" his career in an 8 rounder, but sadly details of Sincere are limited. Hopefully he'll be honest enough to update boxrec one day!
Phantom Ogawa (1-3-1)
Another man who's record is probably incomplete is Phantom Ogawa, who's Boxrec record of 1-3-1 run from 1979 to 1981. Strange from his 5 recorded bouts 3 of them are with the aforementioned Cheyenne Yamamoto, who he reportedly went 1-1-1 against. As well as the trilogy with Yamamoto it's worth noting he also clashed with Masaharu Owada, a future Japanese Middleweight champion. Sadly it's unlikely we'll ever see much footage of Phantom.
New Micky Yoshinobu (2-6, 1)
To finish this month's names article we look at a more recent fighter, in fact one who debuted in 2002 and last fought in 2010. That is Yoshinobu Murata, who was also known as Micky Yoshinobu, and New Micky Yoshinobu. Likely when they found the Old Micky Yoshinobu. Yoshinobu never got beyond fighting in 4 rounders during his career but we do absolutely love his final name. Interestingly his record does have some big time gapes and potentially, some missing bouts on his record, though we suspect his record is pretty accurate in fairness.
It's fair to say that many won't be familiar with Korean fighter Yong Kang Kim (26-5, 11), which is a shame as he accomplished a lot and was one of the final notable names of Korean boxing, fighting from 1985 to 1995. Despite never being a major international star Kim was a 2-time world champion a former Korean national champion and a former OPBF champion, and was certainly someone who deserves a lot more attention than he gets now, around 25 years after his last bout.
For those who aren't familiar with Kim he began his career in 1985 in low profile bouts in Korea. Less than 2 years later he went on to win the Korean Light Flyweight title and by the end of 1987 he was also the OPBF champion. Following that he moved up in weight, winning the WBC Flyweight title in 1988. His reign was a short one but he would later claim his second world title, the WBA Flyweight, in 1991. His second world reign was another short one before his career faded out in 1995.
Despite only fighting in 31 bouts an impressive 10 of those were in world title bouts, and 13 of Kim's career bouts were for some form of title, be it world, OPBF or Korean.
With that small overview of Kim's career, lets take a look at the 5 most significant wins for... Yong Kang Kim
Sot Chitalada I (July 24th 1988)
As mentioned above Kim had won the Korean and OPBF Light Flyweight titles in 1987, taking his first two titles in relatively low key contests. In 1988 however he stepped up massively and challenged Thai Sot Chitalada, the then WBC and Lineal Flyweight champion.
The Thai had won the belt in 1984, when he dethroned Gabriel Bernal, and had run up 6 defenses of the belt before taking on the then 16-0 Kim, who was really untested at this point. Despite being untested Kim would step up to the plat and impress, doing enough to earn a unanimous decision over Chitalada for the title. This was a massive win for Kim, but not coming out performance for the Korean fighter, who used the ring smartly, dictated the tempo at times on the outside and really put on a "non-Korean" style performance. This was a typical come forward performance from a Korean fighter but a more cerebral performance from a fighter who knew winning was more important here than impressing.
Leopard Tamakuma (March 5th 1989)
Kim's first defense came 4 months after his title win, and saw him take a clear and wide decision win over the limited Emil Romano, who finished his career in 1994 with a 19-19-3 (12) record. Roman was limited when he got his shot and went 2-12-2 following his loss to Kim. It's fair to say that whilst a first defense is usually significant, this was pretty much a gimmie first defense. His second however was significant and saw him take on popular Japanese fighter Leopard Tamakuma, who was the reigning Japanese champion. Not only was Kim taking on Tamakuma, but was doing so on Japanese soil.
Despite being the away fighter Kim boxed smart, believed in his style of boxing, moved around the ring well, and picked his spots well, as he took a razor thin unanimous decision win against the Japanese fighter. This wasn't a great fight to watch, and again Kim wasn't trying to win the Fight of the Year award, but it was a smart performance, and his first win outside of Korea, in fact it would be his only win away from home. What makes this win even more notable is the fact Tamakuma would later go on to win the WBA Flyweight title, making this a win that aged really well for Kim.
Elvis Alvarez (June 1st 1991)
Sadly for Kim he would lost the WBC title in 1989, losing in a rematch to Sot Chitalada.A second loss in 1989, this time to fellow Korean Yul Woo Lee, was a major set back and a third loss in 5 bouts, this time to Thai legend Khaosai Galaxy, saw his record quickly descend from 19-0 to 21-3 and it seemed like he had seen better days. In 1991 however he got a shot at WBA Flyweight champion Elvis Alvarez, who had won the title with his own win over Tamakuma.
The talented Colombian champion went to Korea with momentum and it seemed like Kim's career was pretty much over. Kim however proved there was still life left in his legs and out boxed Alvarez on route to a close, but clear, unanimous decision to become a 2-time Flyweight champion. Footage of this one is hard to come by, but all 3 card were close, suggesting a competitive fight, but they were all from neutral judges, suggesting a fair result. Sadly for Alvarez there was no rematch for him, and no chance for him to recapture the title, with the Colombian later moving up to Bantamweight, where he challenged Junior Jones in 1994.
Leo Gamez (October 15th 1991)
In Kim's first defense of his second world title reign he took on Venezuelan legend Leo Gamez, who was looking to carve out his memorable career. Up to this point he had only won one world title, the WBA Minimumweight title, and had skipped Light Flyweight in pursuit of become a 2-time champion. He had, notably, had plenty of fame in South Korea, winning his Minimumweight title with a win against Bong Jun Kim, and had twice challenged Myung Woo Yuh for a Light Flyweight title. He was well known, an exciting fighter to watch and he was coming for a title.
As was typical with Kim fights he didn't dominate. The pressure and aggression of "Torito" gave Kim fits through out the 12 round battle, though in the end Kim did enough to convince all 3 judges that he deserved the victory and to defend his title. The judges scores all favoured Kim by 2 points, with two judges scoring the bout 116-114, but it was certainly a tough out for the Korean. It was also a win that aged remarkably well, with Games later going on to win world titles at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and Super Flyweight, becoming the first fighter to win world titles in the 4 lowest weight classes, something that took 15 years for another to replicate!
Jon Penalosa (March 24th 1992)
One thing that was really notable about Kim's bouts at world level was how many of them went to a decision. He lacked power, he lacked aggression, but he knew how to box and he know how to earn a win, doing to repeatedly against good fighters. Surprisingly however his final win at world level, and his second defense of the WBA Flyweight title, saw him score a rare stoppage win. That came against Filipino challenger Jon Penalosa, the brother of Dodie Boy and Gerry Penalosa.
Entering the bout Penalosa was unbeaten in 16 bouts and was looking to follow in the footsteps of Dodie, who was a former 2-weight world champion by this point. He seemed full of confidence coming into the bout, and was certainly not there to play games with the talented, but frustrating, Korean. Penalosa tried to dominated from the center of the ring and had some real success in the first half of the fight. He was, however broken down by Kim early in round 6. With his man hurt Kim didn't let Penalosa off the hook and ended up finishing him later that same round for his only stoppage win at world level.
Sadly Kim would lose his title a few months later to Aquiles Guzman before vanishing from the ring for 2 years. He would return in 1994, losing again, before making a one off appearance in 1995 and calling it a day. As for Penalosa he ruined by this defeat and went from 15-0-1 entering this bout to retiring 15-4-1, losing his following 3 bouts by stoppage. The bout was the start of the end for Penalosa.
One of the things we, as boxing fans, all want to do is spot the talent before they make it big, and follow their journey from obscurity to the top. Of course to follow them, they need to be on the radar of fans, and with that in mind the guys at Asian Boxing have decided to share some of their picks for the future.
This week they share those picks as they answer the questions:
"Who... should be on the radars of fans but aren't?"
The guys were told to make two choices, with each choice coming from a different country and to pick fighters who really weren't on the radar of fans. Essentially if they were world ranked, they were too well known.
Lee: "I'll be honest and state the obvious. There is probably no Korean boxer right now on the radar of your average boxing fan. It's a sad shame and a real downer for us Korean fans of the sport. Thankfully however the country does some talent coming through the ranks. The most notable of those is a real talent, called Sung Min Yuh. Who I am a huge fan of!
The 20 year old Light Middleweight has been a professional since 2019 and has already won the Battle Royale tournament, the KBM version of "Rookie of the Year", and the KBM Light Middleweight title.
Watching Yuh I see a fighter who has IT. He's talented, he's big, he's growing, he's skilled, he's defensively smart, he can fight inside, he oozes charisma and charm and he knows how to entertain. There is work to do, but at 20 years old and without much amateur experience that's to be expected.
Given the local lack of talent, and his young, young age, I think we'll see Yuh travel outside of Korea before his career is over, and he could well well find himself mixing at a very high level. Get him on your radar now fans!
Outside of Korea, I would also advise taking a look at Ikboljon Kholdarov, who recently turned professional and made his debut in April. He is a super talented young fighter out of Uzbekistan. He was a very highly regarded amateur and someone who has the tools to go a very, very, very long way in the professional ranks. And he has the ability to climb the rankings very quickly."
Takahiro: "I think most Japanese prospects are on the radar of fight fans who read this website. Fighters like Ginjiro Shigeoka, Yudai Shigeoka, Jinki Maeda, Rentaro Kimura, Shokichi Iwata, Shu Utsuki and so many other fighters who have been featured in our "Introducing" series. One man who hasn't been in that series, yet, is Tsubasa Narai.
The 21 year old Narai turned professional in 2019, scoring 3 wins in the year, but really came alive during covid19 delayed Rookie of the Year, winning 4 bouts in the tournament, in 5 months, all by TKO (in fact it took just 9 rounds for him to win those 4 bouts). During his 7 fight career he has barely lost a round, he has been thrilling to watch and he has proven himself as one of the ones to watch going forward. Do not sleep on this unheralded Super Featherweight hopeful.
Kazakhstan is another country that we have spoken about a lot in our "Introducing" series and done numerous articles on some of the nations most promising talent. One fighter who hasn't had much attention is Mikhail Kokhanchik, who made his professional debut last November. The 22 year old Cruiserweight made his debut last year and he looked like a man who every fan should have on their radar. He's not a big guy at Cruiserweight, but he's aggressive, lets his hands go and likes to come forward. He was a good amateur who sadly struggled to fight on the international stage due to the depth that Kazakhstan had, but now I see him being one to watch going forward. He's not the most polished fighter, but he looks like a lot of fun and very impressive on debut."
Scott: "My first pick this week Thai professional novice Thitisak Hoitong, who made his professional debut last year, beating Wittawas Basapean (aka Samartlek Kokietgym) in a 6 rounder. He looked fantastic on his debut, showed cased a brilliant boxing brain, a lot of variation in what he could do in the ring and really looked like the sort of fighter who could be moved very quickly. He was a good amateur, but given how good he looked in his professional debut I get the feeling his moved to the paid ranks will be an excellent one.
Of course saying that I'm assuming other top Thai hopefuls, like Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, Chainoi Worawut, Thanongsak Simsri, Phongsaphon Panyakum and Thananchai Charunphak are all already on your radar.
Another fighter who should be on the radar of every fight fan, is Filipino fighter April Jay Abne, a very young Flyweight who looks like he has all the tools to reach the higher levels in the sport. He is talented, sharp, very young and very promising. He's in his early 20's and has a lot of time to develop. Sadly however he's not been particularly active in recent years and has lost the momentum he seemed to be building in 2019, when he won the Ultimate Boxing Series. Fingers crossed he'll be more active soon and get his career back on track."
The month of May is set to be a very weird one, and one that could see bouts in Japan return to the no fan era, and has already seen shows for the 1st, 5th, 6th and 9th of May being postponed. With more potentially also needing to find new dates.
With that in mind we are going to look at what the current schedule looks like for May, though note that things are in a very fluid situation right now due to the on going pandemic, which has seen several parts of Japan go into another State of Emergency.
London, United Kingdom
Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11) vs Craig Richards (16-1-1, 9)
The first major bout of note will see Kyrgyzstan born Russian based Dmitry Bivol defending his WBA Light Heavyweight "Super" title as he takes on British fighter Craig Richards. The talented Bivol hasn't been in the ring since October 2019, so it's hard to complain too much about a relatively easy defense, but it's fair to say that this is certainly an underwhelming match up between arguably the best Light Heavyweight in the world and someone who, is potentially only the fifth best in the UK. Richards has the style to ask some questions of Bivol, though it's hard to imagine anything but a dominant win by the champion, who really needs to take this opportunity to look good, and not just take a clear win.
Saturday 8, May 2021
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, USA
Elwin Soto (18-1, 12) Vs Katsunari Takayama (32-8-0-1, 12)
A week after Bivol's in action we see Japanese veteran Katsunari Takayama get a chance to become a 2-weight world champion as he takes on WBO Light Flyweight champion Elwin Soto. The now 37 year old Takayama, who turns 38 just days after this fight, is one of the true fan favourites of the lower weights and his wars with the likes of Francisco Rodriguez Jr and Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr have been must watch affairs with drama and action. Soto on the other hand is an emerging force, with a really intimidating reputation as a big puncher, and a youngster with a point to prove. Soto will enter the bout as a very, very clear favourite, and he should be, though Takayama will be entering the bout knowing this is likely to be his final bout at world level, we expect he will go out on his shield, win or lose. For those who haven't seen these two in action before, this will be something to savour!
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Musashi Mori (12-0, 7) Vs Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9)
Given how many Japanese shows have already been affected by the State of Emergency, which is supposed to be lifted on May 11th, it seems likely that the first major Japanese show of the month will come on May 13th, and it is one that is headlined by something a little bit special. That's a Featherweight unification bout between WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori and OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu. This will be a brilliant match up between a skilled youngster, in Mori, who is a very fighter with a good boxing brain, and a flawed, ugly fighter with insane power, in Shimizu. Although stylistically a potential mess, this should be really entertaining and see both men forced to answer some very serious questions about their ability.
Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) Vs Kai Chiba (13-1, 8)
A second title bout on this show will see the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima take on the once beaten Kai Chiba in a bout for the now vacant OPBF Bantamweight title, which was given up by Takuma Inoue a few weeks ago. Nakajima is an interesting fighter who isn't the most natural boxer, and does look rigid and stiff, but has frightening power and long powerful levers. He's the type of guy who can be befuddled by movement, but can destroy people if they stand in front of him. Likewise Chiba is a fighter who hasn't typically used his feet as much as he should, but also has very respectable pop on his shots and could the type of fighter who could get Nakajima's respect. Although Chiba should box and move there is a real chance that he will be dragged into a shoot out here and this could end up being a "blink and you miss it" type of bout.
Keisuke Matsumoto (2-0, 2) Vs Hiromu Murota (6-4-2, 4)
Third generation fighter Keisuke Matsumoto looks to build on his fledgling career as he takes on Hiromu Murota in a scheduled 8 rounder. Matsumoto hasn't looked the most convincing in his first two bouts, though he shown a lot to like, including an ability to bite down when he's needed to and we suspect the plan for him is to build up his experience in bouts like this going forward. The 25 year old Murota shouldn't be much of a threat, though does come in to this following a draw with former Japanese Super Featherweight champion Seiichi Okada and is unbeaten in his last 5 following a 2-4-1 start his pro career.
Katsuya Yasuda (7-0, 4) Vs Tomoki Takada (8-5-2, 5)
Ohashi's "forgotten man" Katsuya Yasuda will be looking for his 8th win as he takes on Tomoki Takada. The plan for Yasuda seems to be much slower than some of the other top Ohashi fighters, but his talent is clear and his performance against Omrri Bolivar last September earned rave reviews from his promoter. Interestingly Takada, despite his record, comes into this bout ranked #9 by the JBC and a win for Yasuda would boost his standing in the sport massively. although no world beater Takada is dangerous and has scored 3 opening round KO's in his last 5. If he lands he could chin check Yasuda, though it's hard to imagine anything but a win for the Ohashi man.
Manchester Arena, Manchester, Lancashire, United Kingdom
Hyun Mi Choi (18-0-1, 4) Vs Terri Harper (11-0-1, 6)
Just 2 weeks after the Bivol bout our attention turns to the UK against as Korean fighter Hyun Mi Choi gets the chance to unify her WBA female Super Featherweight title with the WBC and IBO versions held by English fighter Terri Harper. Choi looked less than impressive in her international debut, last December against Calista Silgado, and will need a much better performance here to over come Harper, who is quickly becoming one of the faces of female boxing. Harper on the other hand needs to build on her last performance, which was an excellent display against Katharina Thanderz. The winner of this will be the queen of the division, and will be looking to the others titles to their collection in what should make for a great year or two at 130lbs in female boxing.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Kazuto Takesako (11-0-1, 11) Vs Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2)
After numerous delays we'll finally see Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako defending his title in a mandatory against Riku Kunimoto. This bout was originally sheduled for the Champion Carnival in 2020, then got delayed due to covid, training issues, an injury and then the recent State of Emergency in Tokyo. On paper Takesako will be the big favourite and will be tipped to be too strong and too good for Kunimoto, who will be fighting for the first time in over 2 years. On the other hand Kunimoto has the style that could pose real issues for Takesako, who is powerful but a bit robotic, and the movement and speed of Kunimoto could see him asking real questions of the champion.
Last years Japanese Rookie of the Year was an odd one as the Covid19 pandemic completely decimated the calendar and saw the Rookie of the Year being pushed backed massively, and not ending until February 2021, 2 months after the originally planned date. Despite the delay to the finals we did see some really promising fighters emerge from the tournament, one of whom was Lightweight fighter Hiromasa Urakawa (7-1, 4), who really impressed through the tournament.
With that Rookie of the Year triumph under his belt, and a bright future ahead of him, we though it was a good idea to give Urakawa the "Introducing" treatment, as he looks to build on his success and move towards potential title fights.
The very basics for Urakawa is that he's a 24 year old Lightweight from the Teiken Gym, who was born in March 1997, but it's what he is as a boxer that we're interested in.
Unlike many Japanese fighters Urakawa didn't really have much of an amateur background in the sport, in fact he's explained in the past that the reason he's involved in the sport was that he "wanted to see a match of an acquaintance". There was no major story there, like there is with many fighters, and no big name fighter seems to have inspired him, instead it was a love of the sport that a friend was doing.
With little to no amateur experience Urakawa made his debut in March 2018, aged 20, and took on Shuichi Aso at Korakuen Hall, live on G+. Within seconds of his debut Urakawa had looked raw, heavy handed and exciting, shaking Aso very quickly in the bout. As the contest went on Urakawa continued to show some nice traits, including a good jab and nice belief in his power and aggression. He did however show a lot of raw qualities and it was very, very clear that he was inexperienced. He looked rigid, tense, and like he was trying to put a lot on almost every shot he threw and it was clear that he was a young man who was a work in progress. Albeit a young man with something exciting about his raw style.
Urakawa would return to the ring 4 months later for his second bout, which saw him quickly stopping Koshi Fujisaki, with that bout ending after just 1 minute. The ending was from a brilliant right hand that dropped Fujisaki, who almost tried to tackle Urakawa by the ankles unaware of where he was for a few seconds. Urakawa's bout continued to be televised, with his third bout being shown, on tape delay, on G+ against Hiroki Sakakubo. Once again Urakawa's power was a difference maker, as he landed a right hand, dropping Sakakubo early in round 2 and then finished him off later the same round with a flurry of big shots.
The win over Sakakkubo came in a preliminary bout of the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year. Sadly for Urakawa however he could come up shot in his very next bout an be eliminated from the competition when he was out pointed by Shinnosuke Saito. Sadly the bout saw the usual aggression of Urakawa being tamed, massively, as he seemed too focused on defensive work, rather than showing off his raw aggression. It was the wrong tactic, and something he later admitted in an interview with Boxmob.jp.
Having lost his unbeaten record to Saito and been eliminated from the 2019 Rookie of the Year Urakawa looked to get back on the horse, and ended the year with a KO win against Ren Matsuoka. This saw Urakawa get back to being an aggressive fighter, and once again his power paid dividends as he dropped Matsuoka midway through the second round, and Matsuoka was unable to continue.
In 2020 Urakawa entered the East Japan Rookie of the Year again, and kicked off his campaign in September, when boxing resumed in Japan. Despite having been out of the ring for over 9 months Urakawa again showed off his power, as he took out Yuki Aizawa in 3 rounds. This was, up to this point in his career, the most polished performance from Urakawa's career. He showed aggression, but also a more mature edge to his boxing. He was tighter defensively than he had been earlier in his career but kept his nasty power, dropping Aizawa late in round 2, then forcing a stoppage at the very start of round 3 with Aizawa's team threw in the towel.
Following his win over Aizawa we then saw Urakawa return to a live TV broadcast as he took on Toshiki Tanaka in the East Japan semi-final. This was, on paper, a big of a gimmie for Urakawa, but to his credit Tanaka came to win and gave the heavy handed Urakawa some real questions to answer early in the bout. Sadly however the bout was curtailed in round 3 when Urakawa was left cut from a clash of heads. Despite only going 2 and a bit rounds the bout went to the scorecards with the judges all giving the bout to Urakawa.
Sadly the planned final for the East Japan Rookie of the Year Lightweight bout fell through at short notice, when Urakawa's scheduled opponent Ryan Joshua Yamamoto, failed to make weight for the contest. This saw Urakawa admit he was frustrated, and he seemed genuinely angry about the situation as he was essentially in the best condition of his career. Although it was a frustrating experience it did allow Urakawa a final to the All Japan final, which we got in February. That final saw him take on Eiji Togawa and the two men delivered a genuinely solid match up, with both showing respect to the other, and both also showing some hunger to win, and to be crowned the All Japan Rookie of the Year. Togawa put in a genuine effort in every round, but in the end the cleaner, heavier, more telling shots were landed by Urakawa, with all 3 judges giving the decision to the Teiken fighter after 5 well contested rounds.
Since his Rookie of the Year triumph, back on February 21st, we've not seen Urakawa return to the ring, though we would expect him back in action in the Summer on a Teiken promoted card. Fingers crossed when we do see him return, it'll be in a solid 6 rounder, giving him a chance to show his continued improvement in the ring.
Although it's unlikely that Urakawa is a world champion in the making he is a fun fighter to watch, a raw fighter with some potential and some one with the ability to make some noise at the upper echelons of the Japanese domestic scene. Don't expect to see him in huge bouts, but do expect him to be in some fun contests, when matched against the right type of fighters. Something we suspect Teiken will do for him.
Rather interestingly every bout of Urakawa's has been shown, either on G+ or on Boxing Raise, meaning people can actually watch every professional bout of his, at least at the time of writing.
Between 1985 and 1990 Korean fighter Yul Woo Lee (19-3, 10) embarked on a short, but exciting and successful career as a talented Light Flyweight and Flyweight. He's not a name that many international fans will be too aware of, but he is someone who is worthy of attention and is one of the few multi-weight Korean world champions.
After making his debut in 1985 Lee, known as "Hot Pepper", raced through the ranks, and won the WBC Light Flyweight title in 1989, in his 18th professional bout. His reign was a short one, but he would win the WBA Flyweight title less than a year later, before ending his career after losing in his first defense to Leopard Tamakuma.
Following his retirement Lee went on to run a boxing school before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Sadly Lee passed away in 2009, at the age of 42, from his cancer.
With Lee's memory and career in mind, we've decided to take a look at the 5 most significant wins for... Yul Woo Lee
Romy Navarrete (April 19th 1987)
We start going through Lee's most significant wins by looking at one that aged well, and is criminally under-rated by pretty much everyone, and that was his 1987 win over Filipino fighter Romy Navarrete, the younger brother of Rolando Navarrete.
It's fair to say that Romy Navarrete is not the well established name that his brother was, however he was no easy out, and managed to win titles at domestic level and later the Oriental level, winning the OPBF Flyweight title in 1989. He was also not an easy man to stop, as Greg Richardson and Luisito Espinosa both found out. Lee however stopped Navarrete in 7 rounds in 1987, to move to 10-0. This win aged really well with the Filipino winning the OPBF title just 7 fights later.
Armando Ursua (December 13th 1987)
Lee's second win of note came just 8 months after he stopped Navarrete and saw him take out former world title champion Armando Ursua from Mexico, in what would actually be Ursua's final bout. The Mexican veteran was well past his best, and was 31 years old with over 50 bouts to his name, but he still had name value and had been a world champion in 1982, when he beat Hilario Zapata for the WBC Light Flyweight title.
Not only was Ursua a former world champion but he was also a man known in Asia. He had lost the WBC title via close decision in Japan and had then gone 10 rounds with Jung Koo Chang, and later Dodie Boy Penalosa. For Lee to not just beat Ursua, but to stop him, was a genuine statement and only the 9th stoppage loss of Ursua's long career. This was a cynical bit of match making, and a smart win for Lee and his career.
German Torres (March 19th 1989)
Sadly Lee's winning run came to an end in May 1988, when he was upset by Miguel Mercedes, aka Miguel Nagashima, who went on to fight for the newly created WBO Light Flyweight title in March 1989. Mercedes lost to Elvis Alvarez in the title bout and just 16 days later Lee got his won world title shot, taking on Mexican veteran German Torres, the then WBC king.
Lee, unlike Mercedes, made the most of his world title shot and ended up breaking down Torres in the 9th round to claim the WBC Light Flyweight title and become a world champion in his 18th bout. Torres, fighting 73rd time, showed his toughness and experience but it wasn't enough to survive with Lee who fought like a man determined to make the most of his big chance. Whilst this was, clearly, a big personal win for Lee it was also huge for Korean boxing given that Torres had won the title 3 months earlier in South Korea against Soon Jung Kang, who retired following the bout. Torres had also previously beaten Jong Kwan Chung, and had gone the distance 3 times with Korean legent Jung Koo Chang. Notably this was also the first time Torres had been stopped since 1977, when he suffered a TKO loss to Rocky Mijares, in what was Torres' 10th professional bout. Sadly for Torres this was the start of the end for him and he would go 4-2-1 afterwards, never competing anywhere close to world level after this bout.
Yong Kang Kim (November 25th 1989)
Lee's world title reign was a short one, losing the belt in his first defense to Humberto Gonzalez in June 1989. Just 5 months after losing his title he was back in the ring and took on the then 19-1 Yong Kang Kim. Although not a huge name himself in the West Kim was a really successful fight and coming in to this one he was a former WBC Flyweight champion, who had narrowly lost the belt to Sot Chitalada just a few months before he faced Lee.
The bout between Lee and Kim was essentially a world title eliminator, and the winner would be moving on to a world title fight. Both men knew it, and both men knew they needed a win. This lead to a hotly contested bout that saw both men make a valid argument to get the judgement after 10 rounds. In the end however Lee took a razor thin decision, helped in part by a knockdown he scored in round 8.
The win over Kim was a major one in so many ways for Lee and his career. It was not just a win over a former world champion, and it not only lead Lee to getting another world title fight, which we'll talk about shortly, but it was also one that aged well as Kim ended up winning the WBA Flyweight title in 1991 to become a 2-time world champion. In fact Kim was still competing at a high level in 1994, when he competed in his final world title bout, losing a decision to Saen Sor Ploenchit. This was, easily, Lee's best win against a fellow Korean.
Jesus Rojas (March 10th 1990)
Around 4 months after scoring his win over Yong Kang Kim fans in Korea saw Lee return to the ring and challenge WBA Flyweight champion Jesus Rojas, from Venezuela. Rojas had won the title In Colombia in 1989, when he beat Fidel Bassa, and was looking to make his first defense. Lee on the other hand was looking to become a 2-weight champion and one of the few men, at the time, to have won world titles at Light Flyweight and Flyweight.
This bout is a bit of a forgotten war, with Lee coming forward like a man possessed and "Kiki" battling brilliantly on the back foot. This, hidden gem, was a bout that really deserves to be seen and was a forgotten thriller that went 12 rounds with a lot of leather being thrown through out. After 12 rounds the Korean narrowly out pointed Rojas, taking a razor thin split decision win to claim the title. The three cards here were all close, reflecting the hot competitive nature of the bout.
Sadly for Lee his reign was a short one, and he would lose the belt in his first defense to Leopard Tamakuma, whilst "Kiki" would rebuild and win the WBA Super Flyweight title in 1998.
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