As we head towards a new year we've decided to look into our glass balls, our tea leaves and our palms to come up with 20 predictions which will be posted over the coming weeks for what we think will happen in 2020. So far our predictions haven't been the best though they've not all been wrong.
In 2013 we predicted that Naoya Inoue, his brother Takuma and Kosei Tanaka would all win world titles. Between them they've won a few world titles, though Takuma has yet to win a proper world title. That same year we also predicted a growth in Chinese boxing, and this arguably happened despite the fact the Macau side of things has died off. We also predicted a growth in Asian fighters making a name for themselves in the US, this was before Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Naoya Inoue or Kazuto Ioka had fought on US soil, and before the wave of Uzbek's had began to attract US attention.
Unlike the past, where we have made all of our predictions in 1 article, we'll be spreading these ones out with 1 prediction per article, and going more in depth than we have in the past.
Prediction number 8 - China claims another world title!
For a country as big as China it's impact in professional boxing has been tiny, though in the last few years it has, slowly, made more and more of an impact. We've seen 3 Chinese men winning world titles, with Xiong Zhao Zhong, Zou Shiming and Can Xu all winning major world titles. We predict that by the end of 2020 3 will become 4 and China will have another world champion in their boxing books.
We'll admit we're not sure who it will be, though in fairness we would never have imagined Can Xu going all the way to the top, but the country is developing a lot of promising talent, and it seems inevitable that China will become a big player in the years to come.
At the end of 2019 we'll see Wulan Tuolehazi fight for the WBO Flyweight title, we've seen Fanlong Meng become the mandatory challenger for the IBF Light Heavyweight title, which he'll likely fight for in early 2020, and Jing Xiang has impressed so much that he now sits on the verge of a world title fight. Chinese boxing has never been better, and with the domestic scene strengthening year by year it really is amazing to see how much the things have changed in China. The promoters are getting good fighters to travel, they are getting the local hopefuls tested early and they are putting on shows worth watching.
Whilst we do predict a new Chinese world champion in 2020 we'd like to couple this with a longer term prediction, China will become a major player in world boxing by the end of the next decade. They will become an Asian hub for boxing and will be putting on some of the best shows in the world. The growth of streaming in China has been key to the growth of boxing, and we suspect that the free access to boxing content will remain a key feature of the countries fight scene, and it's growth into becoming a genuine boxing power house.
If the stream Top Rank claim got 30,000,000 was their youtube one, then those numbers don't reflect Chinese audience but a world wide audience, as anyone was able to watch it. And if it got the 30,000,000 reported, which we genuinely doubt, then those 30,000,000 are going to have been left feeling very frustrated by the poor qulaity of stream that was laggy, repeatedly stopped and had quality shifts all over the place. It was so bad that a number of our good friends turned it off, rather than put up with the constant stop-start aspect of the stream.
Whilst we suspect that the fight got more viewers in China than the reported figure,and much less on the stream, the figures were the ones released by Top Rank, and we can of course take them with a pinch of salt.
Over the past couple of days CCTV5 have been showing more boxing with two special Chinese New Year Cards. Now the first thing to note is that Shiming wasn't put on one of those shows, if he was the Rockstar of Chinese boxing then you would have assumed Arum would have done everything he could to have got Shiming in action around the Chinese New Year, not more than a week before.
We see many of the top Japanese stars fighting during either the "Golden Week", at the end of April and start of May, or at the end of the year. They fight during those windows as there are more people at home and potential TV audiences are larger. In the past we saw Thailand doing big fights around the King's Birthday, whilst Mexican holidays are the big dates on the calendars of American fight fans. Either Top Rank were unaware of the Chinese New Year, were too slow to book the dates, both of which would have been relatively inept of such an experienced promotional outfit, or they knew Shiming couldn't draw as many as they, and CCTV5, would want for the date.
Whilst professional boxing in China isn't technically a "new thing" it does seem to be something is now being taken seriously as opposed to being done as an occasional one off. With the sport slowly becoming a a more accepted activity in the country it does seem like we could be at the very early and formative stages of a new boxing super power, something that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago.
Before we look at the current growth in professional boxing in China it's worth looking at the history of the sport in the country which actually began more than 100 years ago.
From what we understand the first ever professional bout held in China took place in the very early 1900's when James J Ryan stopped Jack McAuliffe in 9 rounds in Tianjin. Of course boxing didn't immediately take off in China and the next recorded bout in the country took place 8 years later when Lyn Truscott fought Kid Parker for the Oriental Middleweight title. Prior to that bout Truscott had been competing regular in Hong Kong, which at the time was ruled by the British.
It wasn't until the 1920's that boxing finally found a home in China with Shanghai hosting numerous fights through much of the 1920's though none of them were of any note. The reason Shaghai was used was due to it's standing at the time as municipality and a place that was seen as the mixing pot of the east. The City, a port area, saw lots of ships and as a result saw lots of cultures many of whom were fond of boxing.
Sadly as troubles brewed between Japan and China in the 1930's the shows suddenly ended leaving China once again boxing-less.
It wasn't until the 1980's that Beijing had it's first ever professional boxing show and China had it's first post World War II show. Surprisingly there was a very recognisable name on the card, that of Japan's first ever IBF champion Satoshi Shingaki who was returning to the ring following back-to-back losses to Jeff Fenech.
Whilst Shingaki was a former world champion he wasn't a big name on the global scale of things. Instead Chinese fans had to wait until 1993 to see a notable name or two as Mike Weaver fought Bert Cooper and the then lightly regarded WBO saw their Light Heavyweight title get defended by Leeonzer Barber, who over-came Mike Sedillo. Barber's bout with Sedillo was the first ever world title fight in China.
In the late 1990's we began seeing sporadic shows, many of which featured PABA title fights as the country became slightly more welcoming to boxing. By 2000 it appeared as if the country could become a home for boxing and we actually had a very interesting show in the country in April 2000 that featured some household names such as Montell Griffin, Andrew Golota, Laila Ali and DeMarcos Corley. Sadly the idea of American fighters in China didn't last long and instead the country became a home away from home for a trio of North Korean women, Kwang Ok Kim, Eun Soon Choi and Myung Ok Ryu.
By the mid-00's Zovi Boxing Promotions were becoming the driving force behind the Chinese boxing scene. The talent pool was very limited but the company were the ones trying to build something and often used Kunming as the base of their shows. It was on one of these early Zovi shows, in 2006 that Xiong Zhao Zhong made his debut.
For many Zhong is a controversial figure. A man used a pawn by the WBC to get a slice of the China money. The truth of the matter however is that Zhong wasn't so much a pawn used by the WBC but instead the catalyst that helped professional boxing take off in China. With in just 2 years of his debut he had featured in 12 shows, many of which were in his home area of Kunming, and won the inaugural WBC Asia Council Continental Light Flyweight title.
In 2008 China hosted the Olympics and, of course, a number of Chinese fighters faired very well including Zou Shiming, Zhang Xiaoping, Zhang Zhilei and Hanati Silamu*. Whilst the Olympics was going on the Klitschko's also had a small part to play in proceedings and actually promoted, alongside German Titov Promotions, two professional bouts. Those bouts featured 2 men who would later become known fighters. One was Heavyweight giant Alexander Ustinov and the other was Ruslan Provodnikov.
Prior to the Olympics there had been the first show in Macau following it's transfer of sovereignty to China 1999. Although it had taken 9 years since it's transfer for it to host a boxing card it would later become one of the most important places for the development of Chinese boxing.
Just a few months after the Olympics Zhong suffered his first professional defeat. By then however boxing was starting to attract Chinese fighters courtesy of the success of the Olympians. It also didn't do any harm to see major US promoter Don King take one of his shows over there, a show that featured Andrew Golota Vs Ray Austin in the main event, which actually stank unfortunately, as well as Marco Antonio Barerra, Juan Palacios, Jameel McCline and a then unknown Devon Alexander.
Although King, in recent years, is much maligned it's often forgotten what a forward thinker he really was and now, some 6 years later China is set to become a force on the professional boxing world.
In 2009 the WBO followed the WBO and created a regional title that was aimed at the Chinese market. They titled their belt the "WBO China Zone" title, presumably to include the special administrative areas of Hong Kong and Macau, The same year Zhong travelled to Japan to compete in a WBC Flyweight world title fight. Zhong lost that bout, dropping a decision to Daisuke Naito, though became the first Chinese man fighter to fight for a world.
Whilst Zhong, despite his set back in Japan, was still the figure head of the Chinese movement we did see, in 2010, the debut of the very young Qiu Xiao Jun. I'll get on to Jun a little bit later but his debut on December 5th 2010 was a major point as was Rex Tso's debut in Hong Kong in September 2011.
By the summer of 2012 Zhong was being carefully manoeuvred by both his team, Zovi, and the WBC in to trying to get him a world title. This meant they had to step on someone's toes, sadly those toes belong to Denver Cuello who was effectively pushed away from a title fight he had earned so that Zhong could be given his chance. Zhong took his chance by winning the WBC Minimumweight title at the end of 2012 and as a result he became the first Chinese world champion.
By the time Zhong had won the WBC title at 105lbs Macau had become a serious place of interest and had given the wider world it's first glimpse of Ik Yang, arguably the most exciting Chinese fighter at the time. Macau was begin to show it's promise as a potential super venue, a city to rival Las Vegas, however their was a chess piece missing, someone who could capture the imagination of the Chinese fans. Zhong had won a world title but had lacked the X-factor and was Zovi's crown for their own growth of Chinese boxing, IK Yang had promise in terms of his style back lacked name value, Rex Tso was huge in Hong Kong but again lacked something at the time to develop shows around.
Bob Arum, knowing what he needed to spear head his own movement in China, did what he could and managed to sign Zou Shiming in what may well have been the biggest boxing coup. Shiming had massive name value in China, he was an amateur star, a 2-time Olympic gold medal winner and just what Arum needed to attract TV, fans and sponsors to his boxing movement. If Zhong was Zovi's spearhead in the mainland then Shiming was to be Arum's spearhead in Macau.
The first Macau card started off with Shiming being the only fighter from China, or it's special administrative regions to appear though quickly Arum added other locals. Tso was on the second show, and then Ik Yang and Kuok Kun Ng joined the party as Arum build a small team of regional fighters who all had something different.
Tso was the most exciting. He was limited and raw but must watch with his aggression and work rate making him a fan friendly fighter who already had the natural fan base following him from Hong Kong. Ng was Macau's very own fighter and a technically astute boxer who was just a boxing baby but showed lovely potential an then you had Ik Yang a fighter with links to Korea, where he began his career, and mainland China as well as a TV friendly style like Tso.
Although Arum may not have expected it he had assembled 4 of the men who looked like they could become stars in Chinese boxing.
Back on the mainland Zhong's reign came to an end as he was upset by Oswaldo Novoa however the money Zovi were putting into the sport seemed to increase and and their shows were taking a new direction. Instead of focusing just on Zhong the Zovi shows began to attract a new generation of youngsters who were picked up for special prospect shows and started to really help develop Jun who by now was looking like one of China's most promising young fighters.
Whilst Zhong is now at the back end of his career there really is no worry about Chinese boxing which appears to be in good hands, both domestically and internationally and it seems we're on the verge of a Chinese boxing revolution.
At the moment the spear head is of course Zou Shiming (5-0, 1) who is the rising star and the man getting major attention. He gets a lot of hate by fans in the west but he gets a lot of attention in China and is the driving force behind turning Macau into a major venue for boxing. Shiming has the attention of fight fans on the mainland as well as Macau and despite being in his 30's is fresh.
If we consider Shiming as the star from the mainland then Rex Tso (14-0, 9) is the star of Hong Kong. He's technically limited but has box office potential due to his style, aggression and the mentality of relentless fighting. His crudeness will likely prevent him from reaching the top but he's going to be the "Hong Kong Gatti" if you will. A huge draw despite his limitations.
Macau's very own Kuok Kun Ng (5-0, 2) might be a more boring fighter than Tso but as the "Macau Kid" he certainly has a market and draw in the local community. Good looking and fighting in one of the middle divisions the 23 year old has the potential to be a long term staple in the Macau market and if developed right could be one of the biggest "cash cows" in the East.
For my money the most exciting of the Chinese fighters who appear on the Macau shows is Ik Yang (16-0-0-1, 11) who is a heavy handed, aggressive fighter that can excite fans around the world. He may look a bit like Tso in his limitations but with his thudding power he's going to be a danger against almost anyone that he faces.
On the mainland the development of the aforementioned Qiu Xiao Jun (13-2, 5) is really exciting with Jun already holding world rankings. Jun has lost twice, both of the losses coming in Japan to Jonathan Baat, but has strung together a good run of wins over Jason Cooper, Jonatahan Baat and Rasmanudin. Also on the mainland is Qu Peng (5-0-1, 3) a 25 year old Light Heavyweight who stands at 6'3", he's less talented than Jun but still worth making a note of.
In the US fight fans have recently seen the debut of gigantic Heavyweight Taishan Dong (1-0, 1) who got a lot of attention in the build up to his debut over Alex Rozman, attention that was magnified after he won. Dong, dubbed "The Great Wall", looked very interesting on his debut and, due to his sheer size, will get a lot of attention even if he is technically limited and very new to the sport.
Another Heavyweight set to debut in the US is former Olympic medal winner Zhang Zhilei (0-0) who is certainly not as big as Dong but, from his amateur pedigree, looks likely to be a more well schooled fighter and at 31 will be fast tracked if his team want him to become a force in the division.
For a country as huge as China the number of fighters might be small but success breeds success. And I'd suspect that in 10 years time we'd be looking at several world class fighters emerging from the country. If Top Rank continue to develop their Macau brand we'd except to see the venue becoming the biggest in Asia and if Zovi continue what they are doing it's only a matter of time before they stumble on some genuinely world class talents. A country the size of China will have natural fighters and with the right training there is no doubt in my mind that they will manage to develop some of the best fighters on the planet.
A small post script-
In 1941 the great Tsuneo "Piston" Horiguchi fought in what is now Shenyang, it was his 101st bout. At the time the land was under Japanese occupation and shouldn't be considered as a bout "in China" despite the land now being part of China.
*Hanati Silamu is better known as Kanat Islam
Images courtesy of:
Chris Farinas/Top Rank
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