On February 27th we'll see fast rising Kazakh hopeful Kamshybek Kunkabayev (2-0, 2) take part in his first title bout as he battles Northern Irish fighter Steven Ward (13-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific Cruiserweight title, in Kazakhstan. On paper this looks like the next step en route to making Kunkabayev a star, and will see him take on a decent fighter, but someone he should beat. On the other hand it gives Ward a high profile bout against a top former amateur, a chance to get his career back in track after a 2019 loss to the under-rated, and wonderfully charming, Ricards Bolotniks.
To begin with, we don't know how Ward qualifies for a WBO Asia Pacific title bout. It appears that every so often a title and its rules and regulations go out of the window and this appears to be one of those cases. Despite that we are, genuinely, looking forward to this bout and suspect it will be a coming out party, of sorts, for the fantastically promising Kunkabayev, who may well be on the fast track to major success.
The 29 year old Kazakh made his professional debut last August, with the intention of using the professional scene to stay busy and stay finely tuned ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. An Olympics that had already been delayed and, even as we write this, isn't a sure thing due to Covid19. Unlike many fighters who take stay busy fights Kunkabayev didn't want easy bouts to stay busy and instead took on Issa Akberbayev, who seemingly didn't want to be there. He then returned to the ring in December and took on the usually solid Serhiy Radchenko, and scored a 4th round RTD win. After just 2 wins it seemed that Kunkabayev was already showing the tools of being a fantastic professional and with the Olympics looking less and less likely we do wonder whether his mind set has changed to focusing on the professional scene, rather than the amateur one.
Despite impressing as a professional it is worth noting that Kunkabayev really is a top notch amateur. He was a 2-time World Championship silver medal winner and 2-time Asian Championship silver medal winner. His amateur credentials speak for themselves, and unsurprisingly he is a very, very well polished boxer. At 6'3" he's got good size for a Cruiserweight and he knows how to use his frame well. He has a sharp jab, moves surprisingly lightly on his feet, has an excellent southpaw left hand, and is technically very good. Despite being impressive it is worth noting that his first two opponents have shown almost no ambition against him and not asked any questions, and he's really looked like a man who hasn't got out of first gear yet. It'll be interesting to see what happens when an opponent takes the fight to him, and doesn't show him far, far, far, too much respect.
In Steven Ward we have a 30 year old who began his career in 2016 as a Light Heavyweight. His career went swimmingly early on and he won his first 12 bouts, including a notable win in 2018 against Steve Collins Jr and a good 2019 win over Liam Conroy. Sadly however his winning run came to an end in late 2019 when he was stopped inside a round by Ricards Bolotniks in WBO European Light Heavyweight title bout. Against Sadly for Ward the loss to Bolotniks, and the win over Conroy, saw him being dropped and there are real question marks as to whether that was due to a poor chin, or weight issues, with Ward being a big Light Heavyweight at 6'2". Since the loss to Bolotniks he has moved up in weight and we dare say that the increase in weight will be better for his body, though we do still wonder about his durability.
In the ring Ward is a fighter who likes to use his jab, and likes to keep things at a safe range. Sadly however that tactic failed against Bolotniks, who managed to drop him with a left hook mid way through the round and then got all over him and dropped him twice more. That was against a much smaller man. Kunkabayev on the other hand is bigger than Ward and won't be backed off by the jab of the Northern Irishman. In fact if anything Ward trying to jab at Kunkabayev could end up speeding up his downfall. Sadly it's hard to really see what Ward brings to this bout to make him a test. He is, on paper, a step up for Kunkabeyv, but in reality offers very, very little.
On paper Ward looks like a good match up. He's more experienced than Kunkabayev, at least in the professional ranks, but that's pretty much the only advantage he has. He's the naturally smaller man, the less polished, the chinnier, the lesser puncher and the less talented. Ward might have the professional experience but that won't help when Kunkabayev catched him, hurts him, and finishes him.
If we're being honest we suspect Kunkabayev to feel out his man for a round or two, then put his foot on the gas and finish this within 4 rounds to take home his first professional title, and take a huge stride towards a potential world title fight by the end of 2021.
Prediction - Kunkabayev TKO4
By Troy Parslow
Try as I might to enjoy other factions, in my distractions as a boxing fan there are few ecosystems more challenging and rewarding to keep pace with than those of the Asian flyweight.
Between the three ‘flyweight’ classes of 108, 112 and 115 lbs, the Philippines, as I’m sure you’ve come to expect, offers much of the depth. And, accordingly, they deliver styles and characters manifold. Understanding where they all fit in amongst the domestic abundance is esoteric in the time and deviations it requires of you, and it can be easy to lose fighters in the shuffle. Above all though, this depth binds new prospects to a standard and spawns rivals to prove their worth.
True to form, on the 13th February, at Paniqui Mega Mart, the contrasting identities of Bienvenido(Ben) Ligas, 12-1-1 (9) and Alphoe Dagayloan, 14-3-6 (5), meet to contest the vacant Philippine Flyweight Championship.
Under the Elorde and Fairtex banners, training in their satellite gyms, ‘Sniper’ Ben ‘Fairtex’ Ligas, 22, of Caloocan City, looks to have the talent and resources to transcend this domestic pile up and move his career through the levels.
Following his suffering of a technical draw to Joseph Ambo and his losing an all-action bantamweight rematch in 2018, aged 19, Ligas has been streaking to the tune of six wins and five knockouts; shaking up JC Francisco(misrepresented by his 8-15 losing record) and cruising to a decision, as well as toppling Jesel Guardario in one, Cristoval Furog in three and Joan Imperial also in three.
Big and strong at the weight in his 5’7” frame and with an exciting, if relatively untested, skillset, at his core Ligas is an aggressive counter puncher. Feinting and agitating with his lead hand and jab, shuffling with deceptive footwork and movement at the upper body; he looks to create opportunities to explode into his offence with fierce counters to body and counter in combination. Comfortable setting traps and punching as he moves in any direction, composed up close and unflustered fighting off of the ropes, it’s always encouraging when you can trust a young prospect has the versatility to draw on.
In the ten rounds against southpaw veteran JC Francisco, we got to see a lot of what Ligas does best. Shifting his weight over his front foot as he shuffled forwards or back, baiting with his jab, feinting with his right shoulder or countering with his right hand; Ligas likes to establish the threat of his rear hand and load his left hip to lead unexpectedly with his left hand or follow up on the right. Channelling Canelo, almost, in the fifth, he shifted his weight onto his front foot, twitched his lead hand, flared a right hand feint and dropped Francisco with a lead left uppercut. As he shifts his weight over the front foot, he’s able to manipulate the distance by leaning over his base and giving the impression of being in range. When he does this as he shuffles back, he’s able to draw leads and counter off of half-steps, making his opponent fall short. Also impressive was his keen use of hand traps to pull down the right side of his Francisco’s guard and land the left hook.
Fighting out of the lesser-known, talented Quibors gym, if we’ve come to expect anything of ten year professional Alphoe Dagayloan, 29, and his upstart career revival, it’s his rising to the role of opponent.
Debuting in 2010, it would take eight years and 16 fights for Dagayloan, Bacoor, Cavite, to find form, tallying a messy 8-2-5. He’s since gone 6-1-1; dropping Kazakh Madiyar Zhanuzak five times to an eighth round stoppage win; decisioning domestic prospects Danrick Sumabong and Esneth Domingo; losing narrowly on points to Kadoebi Gym-trained Ryota Yamauchi and taking Carlo Penalosa to a draw.
Watching Dagayloan, we see a fighter struggling to keep their shape on just about everything he throws and yet, as much as he isn’t a correct puncher, when it comes to landing off-beat out of his southpaw stance, he’s perfectly awkward for it. He doesn’t really pressure with his feet or cut off the ring, so much as he reacts and moves towards his opponent’s centre, punching into the clinch and hooking to both sides of the body(or anything in the way), before switching upstairs when he notices either side of the guard slipping. Forgoing his balance, falling in and then squaring up, he simply allows for no transfer of weight and looks less like he’s punching to hurt the longer his combinations continue. So long as it doesn’t stop him coming forward, though, or throwing off of both hands, he’s content to lead and keep a high output—to push his pace.
As disagreeable as his brand of brawling can come off, you can only imagine the frustration his opponents have finding separation and a pocket of air to breathe. Uncomfortably effective and constant, not since a loss in his third fight has Dagayloan allowed anyone the space to separate themselves from him unanimously—or otherwise enough to beat him. That’s not to say better fighters wouldn’t have done so, but whenever he’s needed to find a new gear, that next level of craft or skulduggery, he’s always had enough to impose his pace and physicality. To beat him clearly(and cleanly) would be a statement, but fall short of that and you’re surely wrestling every second of the fight to return to the comfort of the fundamentals.
Sharpening both edges of his blade with every close run decision, there are few opponents less fashionable and more significant for a Pinoy prospect than Alphoe.
Can he spoil?
As with any of his fights, of course, is the risk of the fight looking ugly in the moments Dagayloan leads with his head. And it wouldn’t be the first time—or the fourth—a clash of heads ended a Dagayloan or Ligas fight prematurely.
That said, we know the value of Dagayloan being himself and when he’s consistent in hiding his left hand entries behind a short jab and raiding whenever his opponent is trying to take stock, standing in range or backing up straight, at this level it has proven a nightmare to manage. When he punches into the clinch or finds himself on the inside, it’s important he’s as rough and crafty as we know he can be. He needs to lean on Ligas’ right shoulder like he did Penalosa’s, holding his head with his right hand and throwing left uppercuts across his body. As well as using his own head to stand Ligas up and prevent him from tying up or using his strength to create separation with a forearm.
Dagayloan plays fast and loose with southpaw-orthodox lead dynamics, stepping either side of an orthodox lead foot to land his jab and, again, it works for him entering range and landing off-beat. If he steps inside Ligas’ lead foot recklessly he might find himself walking into that rear hand, but he will always give up opportunities to counter and if he’s to push a pace on Ligas, he might need to take these risks to get to his body early. Being that this is Ligas’ first fight scheduled for 12 rounds, and that he has only ever gone as far as 10 rounds once, there’s no telling how he’ll handle the pace if Dagayloan can regularly get to his chest and work the body.
Winning for Dagayloan—being recognised with the Filipino title—would mark a quite admirable comeback from a turbulent rise at the journeyman level.
A significant step for Ligas, if he can handle the Dagayloan problem suitably, it could rubberstamp his credentials as one of the foremost prospects in the country.
And he’s equipped to beat Dagayloan well. Particularly using his feet to manipulate distance and counter off of half-steps. Dagayloan moves in straight lines and doesn’t like to punch with his opponent: hiding behind a rigid high guard and waiting his turn to punch. As I’ve mentioned, Dagayloan’s imbalance makes him readily available to counter if you can time him, but if Ligas can’t bait him into leading and counter as he falls in, he can have success occupying him in a high guard, stepping around his southpaw lead foot to change the attack and turn him, guiding Dagayloan past him with his (check) left hook.
Dagayloan is consistent on the inside if he has the freedom to stand square on and work the body, and he throws tight uppercuts well off of both hands, but considering how often finds himself in the clinch, it shouldn’t be so easy to control him and walk him back to the ropes. It’s not something we’ve seen all that much from Ligas and, late on in their fight, Francisco made him look slightly uncomfortable working under him and preventing him from tying up, but if he employs basic grappling technique here he’ll be able to dictate terms on the inside and walk Dagayloan back when he wants to break up his offense. Despite his willingness to fight off the ropes in recent fights, it makes more sense for Ligas to keep the fight at a range his cleaner footwork can make the difference and help create opportunities to counter or exacerbate Dagayloan’s shortcomings. At the very least, here Dagayloan should serve as a fascinating test of Ligas’ ability to control distance with his feet and manage a fight.
On a date heaving with exciting fights, when a young prospect tries to balance aggression and control against a marauding vet, the Philippines looks like a great place to start.
After getting two great Japanese title fights in January, including a FOTY contender between Yusaku Kuga and Gakuya Furuhashi, we’ve come into February with high expectations of what to expect in bouts for the Japanese national title. With that said the next one we’re going to get looks like it could, potentially, be a special high level chess match as Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa (10-1, 5) defends against mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8), this coming Thursday.
Unlike the two Japanese title fights we got in Tokyo in January the view coming into this one isn’t that we’ll see a war but instead a sensationally high level contest, and one that will be more suited to the purists, rather than fans baying for blood. Despite that it’s one we’ve waited well over a year for!
The bout was originally announced to take place in early 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival. Sadly however Covid19 ruined those plans, and put the bout on hiatus, pushing it to 2021. In the interim Maruta sat out the year whilst Sagawa managed to make a voluntary defense against the gutsy Yuri Takemoto, who put up a game effort before being stopped in the 6th round. Despite the lengthy delay this is a bout that we suspect will be worth every day of the delay and should provide us something special.
For those who haven’t seen the men in action, they actually have quite a lot in common. Firstly both men are genuinely handsome young fighters, who don’t look like typical boxers, in fact both genuinely look like pretty boys. Despite that both are incredibly talented boxers, with excellent technical ability, great speed and under-rated power. They are also both flawed fighters, who appear to be improving from some early career hiccups.
The 26 year old Sagawa turned professional in 2016 after a very solid amateur career. He looked good in his debut, scoring a TKO win over Korean Ho Ya Kim, before suffering a TKO loss to Retsu Kosaka. The loss saw Sagawa being hurt as Kosaka made the most of Sagawa’s inexperience, and went on to force a stoppage soon afterwards. The bout exposed two issues with Sagawa. One was his chin, which was shaky but not glass, the other was his inexperience, and he looked very confused about how to react to being hurt. Thankfully since then he has improved so much, and has won 9 in a row. They have included a fight where he had to pull himself off the canvas to win, against Junki Sasaki, an excellent TKO win over former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto, his international debut against Al Toyogon, his title winning performance against Reiya Abe and two subsequent title defenses.
In the ring Sagawa is a very, very tidy boxer. Offensively he’s very sharp and despite not being a puncher he has more than enough power to get respect from opponents, and he can hurt and stop fighters, as he did against Ryo Matsumoto and Yuri Takemoto. There’s no doubting his ability, and his adaptability, showing himself to not only be an excellent boxing, with textbooks skills, but also a very capable fighter when he needs to, as he did in the second half of his bout with Toyogon. Despite being incredibly talented, and very smooth, there are still worries about Sagawa’s chin and he has been stopped and dropped before. He’s not the easiest man to catch clean, but we do worry about what happens when he is caught. He has matured from his loss to Kosaka, but there will always be a worry about how well he takes a shot and whether he can pull it back together to take a victory, as he did against Sasaki.
Hinata Maruta turned professional in 2015, as a baby faced 18 year old, and looked set for huge things. As soon as he turned professional there was a lot of buzz and fuss about him, and it was proven to be warranted when he beat the then world ranked Jason Canoy on debut. He had been a stand out amateur and that amateur experience had seen him get rave reviews from those in Japan. Following his impressive debut he ran his record out to 5-0 (5), winning and defending the WBC Youth Bantamweight title and looking like a brilliant talent. He looked like a man with sensational skills, a crispness rarely seen of such a novice, speed, size, reach and incredible reactions. Sadly, though he stepped up too much too soon and in his 6th bout he lost a competitive decision to Hidenori Otake, in an OPBF title fight. Despite the loss Maruta’s stock remained high, given the huge step up and his performance. After a couple of wins he was held to a very debatable draw in the Philippines, against Ben Mananquil, before scoring a trio of solid Japanese domestic level wins.
In the ring Maruta is one of the smoothest boxers in Japan, and unlike many Japanese fighters his style is very one inspired by the slick, slippery style that we see as being popular in the US. His defense is fantastic, as is his ability to box behind his jab, and his power is criminally under-rated. Sadly though for all the positives we can say about Maruta, and there is a lot we like about him, there is one major issue we have with him. That’s his work rate. Early in his career Maruta was happier to show what he could do, and showcase his skills, rather than let his hands go, and often seemed to stall in second and third gear. Thankfully that has been less frequent since his draw with Ben Mananquil, but there is always a risk that he will fall back into that pattern of simply “not doing enough”. If he can let his hands go more though he looks like a sure fire future world champion.
Coming into this one we really are expecting a very, very high level boxing contest, between two men who will be looking to out think each other, adapt to each other, and come back with plans A, B, C and D. This is one that we suspect will start as a boxing contest and we’ll see both men adapt as the bout goes on, moving from pure boxing to more of a fight. In theory that’s the type of bout which favour Sagawa, who has proven he can up the tempo and fight up close. Whilst it’s true that brawl could favour Sagawa we actually think that will be his undoing and his chin will get tagged by a counter from Maruta, who will then unload on a stunned Sagawa and force a stoppage to take the title.
Whilst we are predicting a stoppage for Maruta we really wouldn’t be surprised by any outcome here. It’s one of those bouts where anything is possible, and one of those bouts where both men will need to make continual changes to their tactics until the ending comes. It will be cerebral at times, exciting at others, and genuinely fantastic through out.
Prediction - TKO9 Maruta
As we entered 2021 one of the divisions that had us the most excited was the Light Flyweight division, which has an incredibly stacked top 10-15 on the global stage. As well as being one of the best divisions at the top it is also one of the best in terms of emerging youngsters looking to make their mark on the upper echelons of the sport.
This coming Thursday at Korakuen Hall we see two of the best prospects in the divisions clash, as Ryu Horikawa (3-0-1, 1) and Yudai Shigeoka (2-0, 1) battle for the vacant Japanese Youth title in a truly brilliant match up that will put the winner on the fast track to more senior titles and much bigger fights.
Of the two fighters the older man is Yudai Shigeoka, the older brother of the more well known Ginjiro Shigeoka. The 23 year old Shigeoka, who turns 24 in April, had a very successful amateur career before turning professional in 2019, following his brother to the professional ranks. He debuted in a low key bout, stopping Thai visitor Manop Audomphanawari in 2 rounds back in October 2019, before stepping up massively and out pointing OPBF champion Lito Dante over 6 rounds, in a much more polished performance. Sadly however he has been out of the ring since beating Dante, back in December 2019.
From his performances so far we know that Shigeoka is a talented southpaw, with good handspeed, fantastic accuracy and timing and a good judge of distance. Against Manop he showed some brutal body work, and looked very relaxed and natural against a man who really wasn't fit to face him. Against Dante however we saw Shigeoka show what he can do with an excellent boxing display, staying wary of Dante's strength and power. Rather than going to war with Dante he boxed, moved, and tied up when he needed to, showing fantastic maturity for a fighter in just his second professional bout.
In the eyes of many Yudai Shigeoka is just as promising as his younger brother, and potentially has more upside, being a little bit more of a boxer-puncher, rather than a puncher-pressure fighter, and being taller. A win here would certainly open the door for Watanabe to move him towards bigger fights later in the year.
At just 20 years old Ryu Horikawa is a boxing baby, but one who has shown a lot of potential already. Like Shigeoka he too debuted in 2019, albeit at the age of 19, and quickly caught the eye. His debut saw him score a 3rd round TKO win over Jun Ishimoto before he scored an excellent win over Yuki Nakajima, just weeks after his debut. He then squeezed in a third fight before the end of 2019, as he travelled to China and made his international debut, fighting to a much debated draw with Xiang Li in a 10 rounder for the WBO Oriental Light Flyweight title. That experience will serve him well here in a scheduled 8 rounder. In 2020 Horikawa managed to fight in a single fight, defeating Daiki Kameyama in a very close and competitive 6 rounder as he continued to build his record and experience.
In the ring Horikawa is a fantastic boxer-mover. He’s very quick, very sharp and almost glides around the ring. Although not the biggest or strongest fighter at 108lbs he has an excellent jab, understands range very well and can sneak inside very easily, before getting away. One of his biggest strengths is his reflexes, and he spots openings very quickly, both on the front foot and the back foot, often tagging opponents at the slightest of mistakes. Despite being very good, his inexperience does occasionally show and he is clearly not the strongest fighter, with Yuki Nakajima pushing him around up close in the later stages of their 2019 bout.
On paper this might not look like an amazing match up, but it is one we are expecting to be a fantastic high speed, chess bout between two quick, talented fighters, each looking to kick their career on to the next level. Sadly for Horikawa we think his physical immaturity will be an issue here. He is, arguably, the better pure boxer but sadly he’s in with a stronger, more powerful fighter and we suspect, over 8 rounds, that will grind him down. The key for Shigeoka is his potent body attack, and we suspect that will take the wheels form Horikawa in the middle rounds, and leave the younger man in real problems in the final stages.
We suspect Horikawa survives the 8 rounds, but does come up short in a competitive, but clear, decision.
Prediction - Shigeoka UD8
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.