In recent years the Flyweight division has been a weird division, with no one really making it their division. We've have fighters like Juan Francisco Estrada, Brian Viloria and Roman Gonzalez all fighting some top names there, but in reality we've not seen someone look to make the division their home since Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Many of the top fighters in the division have merely passed through the division, with the likes of Kazuto Ioka, Donnie Neites and Kosei Tanaka all making relatively short stays there. As a result we've missed out on a lot of bout that could have taken place there. Today we look at one such missed opportunity for the division.
Johnriel Casimero Vs Zou Shiming
The bout we want to talk about today is a show down between Johnriel Casimero, another man whose stop in the division was a short one, and Chinese star Zou Shiming, who had the potential to face pretty much anyone he wanted. Not only was this a potential all-Asian match up but it was also one that would have pitted two very different styles against each other, could have acted as a unification bout and would almost certainly have helped bring one fighter to the public attention years before he really broke through to a wider audience.
In reality the window for this one is quite a short one. We would have pencilled in an early to mid 2017 date for it, though in reality there is a bit more flexibility to it than that. Casimero won the IBF Flyweight title in May 2016, doing so in China, and Shiming won the WBO Flyweight title 6 months later in the US. Sadly neither man managed a lengthy reign, with Casimero defending the title once before moving up in weight in 2017 whilst Shiming lost in his first defense, to Sho Kimura. Despite that there was a window for the bout and, had Casimero been offered a Shiming Showdown, we suspect he would have remained at the weight for longer than he did.
Filipino slugger Johnriel Casimero is one of the sports true road warriors and a multi-weight world champion. He won his first world title at Light Flyweight, surviving a post fight riot following a bout with Luis Alberto Lazarte, and would later go on to stop Amnat Ruenroeng and Zolani Tete to claim world titles at Flyweight and Bantamweight respectively. At his best he's a speedy, hard hitting, awkward and unorthodox puncher with true bang in his shots. At other times however he's a disinterested fighter who's very frustrating to watch and seems to be stuck in first gear.
Zou Shiming on the other hand is China's most accomplished amateur boxer who turned professional with Top Rank to much fanfare, though the good will of this Chinese hopeful didn't last long. Sadly for Shiming his amateur style was engrained and he turned professional far to late, and with too many nagging injuries, to ever become the star Top Rank had wanted. He was a quick, skilled fighter, but one who had little power, lacked the physicality and potentially even fought at the wrong weight, as he would likely have looked a lot better had he been able to move down to Light Flyweight.
Going back to when, and even explaining the where. With Casimero winning his IBF Flyweight title in China, and being a well known road warrior, and with Shiming being a Chinese fighter this bout would have made for a great event in late January 2017 as part of the Chinese new Year celebrations.
How would we see it playing out?
This is a bout where I we saw the best of both men we could be in for a very, very interesting match up between two talented fighters with very different styles. Shiming's speed and movement could be a problem for pretty much anyone, and his brain is a valuable asset at this level. Sadly though his lack of power will be a problem and he always struggled to keep fighters honest. Against a fighter like Casimero, who often lunges and throws unpredictable shots we see Shiming's boxing brain being neutralised quickly and Shiming needing to rely on his amateur fencing style.
If Casimero is not at his best we could be in for a bit of a stinker. He could sleep walk through much of the fight, letting Shiming run up an early lead and then we'd see Shiming in sruvival mode late on, cruising to a decision. It's a result we don't imagine would do the sport any good, but it's a very real real possibility with Casimero's inconsistencies.
On the other hand if Casimero was in the right mood he would stalk, cut the ring off, and press Shiming. We suspect an aggressive Casimero would take out Shiming in the middle to late rounds, with his power, speed and aggression being too much for the Chinese fighter.
One thing to note, is that for a bout like this, we would expect to see Casimero well and truly on form.
Would history of been changed?
Yes! History would look a lot different today had we got this bout. If Shiming won, and it's not the result we would expect, we would likely have seen Chinese boxing have a huge shot in the arm and we suspect we would have seen more sustained and continued investment in the countrie's boxing scene. It would however have only been a matter of time before things crashed down around Shiming, who was in his mid 30's and suffering from injuries.
Had Casimero won we would be looking at his career, and the Flyweight division, very differently. Had Casimero won he would likely have never faced Charlie Edwards, as his two titles would have drawn the attention of bigger names. He would have been a well known international name before his 2019 upset win over Zolani Tete. He would likely have never made his rather pointless foray into the Super Flyweight division, or if he had he would have gone straight into a big bout, not an eliminator with Jonas Sultan, which he of course lost.
More tellingly if Shiming had lost the WBO belt to Casimero we would almost have certainly not see Sho Kimura announce himself and become a world champion, with Kimura ending the reign of Shiming's to become the champion. If that bout failed to happen we would likely have gotten Casimero facing Toshiyuki Igarashi in a WBO mandatory, in a fight that would have truly stunk, and never ended up with the thrilling bout between Kimura and Kosei Tanaka. In fact we may never have seen Kosei Tanaka even win a Flyweight title.
Whilst we would have loved seeing Casimero make a name for himself in 2017 with a win over Shiming, which is what we would expect had this bout taken place, we can't complain too much about the reality we got. If anything, we got the better reality,, thanks to the Kimura Vs Tanaka fight!
Back in December we looked at some boxers who were involved in music, either with their own recordings, or when they inspired songs. Now we've decided to look at other times Asian boxers featured in media outside of the sport. We've tried to find some pretty interesting examples and whilst we know there are thousands of examples, we've tried to feature some that are less well known, or rather amusing.
Samart Payakaroon in "The Body Guard"
One of the fighters we featured in the songs by Asian boxers was Thai great Samart Payakaroon. Samart wasn't just a boxer who turned to singing however but also acting, and did so in a number of roles, including a rather humorous role in Thai movie "บอดี้การ์ดหน้าเหลี่ยม", aka The Bodyguard.
Samart's role in the movie wasn't a massive one, but was a tongue in cheek comedy role in the movie, and it's genuinely fantastic to see what he was able to do in 2004 film. Incidentally the movie also features Khaosai and Khaokor Galaxy, who place twins in the movie, however the clip below is just Samart in what is genuinely a a clip worthy of 3 minutes of any ones time.
Katsuya Onizuka's Boxing video game
In the last few years the clamour for a new boxing game has grown, with Fight Night Championship now being a rather old and dated. Notably however former Japanese Katsuya Onizuka had a game that took his name back in the 1990's!
"Onizuka Katsuya Super Virtual Boxing" was a Japanese only Super Famicom game released in late 1993. Back then Onizuka, known as "Spanky K", was the WBA Super Flyweight champion and one of the most popular fighters in Japan. Interestingly the game was released around 3 weeks after his rematch with Thanomsak Sithbaobay.
Unlike most boxing games this one actually uses a first person mode, similar to Punch-Out!!
Onizuka has also featured in some other media, and is now known in Japan due to art work, with his paintings getting attention in his homeland and being available to buy.
Zou Shiming makes cameo in Transformers 4
Bob Arum's big hope to have a Chinese expansion was built primarily on the shoulders of Zou Shiming, a former Chinese amateur standout. Sadly the idea of making Macau an Asian boxing hub has failed, and Shiming's career has sadly been cut short due to injuries. Saying that however he is still very popular in China and a big name in his homeland.
Before his in ring career faltered he had a small part in Hollywood blockbuster Transformers 4. It wasn't a long cameo, or even a particularly long one, but it was a notable one with the producers of the film wanting to use Shiming to try and make the movie bigger in China, and tap into the growing Chinese film market.
This is less humours than the Samart Payakaroon clip, but still worthy of a few minutes to see Shiming trying to act!
Some thing totally different to everything else on this list is this old item that used to be sold on the Kameda shop. This was the "Kameda Roll", a food item that the Kameda brothers put their name to.
Back in 2010 this was pretty big news in Japan, back when all 3 of the Kameda brothers were active fighters. It was a collaboration between the Kameda brothers and Kitahorie Charbon, a cafe in Osaka. For those who know about Osaka they will know the area is regarded as having some of the best food in Japan and this roll was certainly interesting.
It was described on www.excite.co.jp as being a "melon bread-like biscuit dough with a two-layer structure of fluffy sponges with plenty of egg yolk", and was apparently a success back when it was released. Sadly though it hasn't been the raging, long term success of the George Foreman grill.
Rex Tso in HUAWEI Honor advert
Boxers being used in adverts isn't a new, or unique thing, but the partnership between Hong Kong's Rex Tso and Chinese phone giant HUAWEI was more than just Tso being used to advertise the phone. It was actually a solid partnership that ended up with HUAWEI streaming some of Tso's fights on their facebook page as the brand looked to make the most of their deal with the fighter.
The art featuring Tso for the phone is a pretty weak one if we're being honest, showing more of Tso training than any real attempt to sell the phone. The focus was clearly more on merely raising the brand awareness than showing what the phone could do, which is a shame as the Honor 6 was a fantastic phone. Still seeing Tso in this role was rather weird and it's clear that's, not the most natural of actors, despite his incredible charisma.
Other adverts that were considered included Gennady Golovkin's adverts for Apple Watch, which again did little to make us think anything positive of the device.
Naoya Inoue's under pants advert
We finish this article with one more advert, the Body Wild Airz advert featuring Japanese star Naoya Inoue, Unlike the Rex Tso advert this does try and sell the product, which are underpants.
Inoue became the face, and body, of the advertising campaign for the Body Wild underwear and whilst it was really smart marketing in many ways it does seem a rather peculiar of using one of the biggest stars in Japanese boxing. It also makes the product easy to rip, which does seem the best of ideas for those behind the product, even if that wasn't the idea behind the advert. Of all the adverts we came across featuring Asian boxers seemed the most bizarre. A boxer, selling boxers!
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
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